Posts Tagged ‘Harold MacMillan’

More Tory Madness at the Polls: Theresa May Most Popular Leader Since Churchill

April 29, 2017

What are they on?
Or to put it another way, how stupid and gullible do they think the British public is?

I’ve blogged today about the unreliability of the polls. These supposedly show that May has a 16 per cent lead over Jeremy Corbyn, who is, as the Tories and the Blairites are constantly screaming, supposedly unelectable. But those same polls, as Mike has said on his blog, show that the Tory lead apparently fell by eight points in just one week. And the I newspaper also claimed in an article this past week, that while May was in an overall lead, Labour was far more popular with young people.

All this is I can believe. I also mentioned in my last article about the polls a piece by Guy Debord’s Cat, where he argued that polling isn’t designed to provide an objective description of how popular our leaders are, or who really thinks what about a particular issue. They’re carefully manufactured by the polling companies – largely Tory – and the media – also largely Tory – to show the results they want, in the hope of influencing the electorate, thus showing the power of the press as opinion formers.

Hence the constant refrain from the Blairites, the Tories and their lickspittles in the press that Jeremy Corbyn is supposedly massively unpopular with suitable polling figures trotted out to show this. Supposedly. In fact, the media and Corbyn’s opponents within and outside the Labour party are absolutely terrified of him being popular. If – terrible thought! – Corbyn actually wins the election, it will put an end to nearly forty years of Thatcherism in one form or another. The rich might have to start paying their fair share of the public purse again, while the poor might start seeing improvements to wages, services and proper welfare provision. One that provides them with the maintenance they need and treats them with the respect and dignity they deserve. And it will stop the privatisation of the NHS, which UNUM, Branson, BUPA, Circle Health and the other private healthcare providers angling to get some of the market occupied by the NHS are so keen on.

Now I’m prepared to accept that May probably is in the lead over Corbyn in terms of personal popularity, because of the relentless campaign by the mainstream media to promote her. That lead, however, needs to be heavily qualified. Richard Seymour in his book Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics has pointed out that the ‘Project Fear’ the mainstream media has launched against Corbyn in the hope of terrifying people into not voting for him has backfired. People are reacting against the media’s demonization and constant lying. And so far from making Corbyn unpopular, he’s become more so with people expressing their support for the Labour leader, and getting news and information about him, not from the papers, TV or radio, but from social media on the Net. This is being done spontaneously by ordinary people not connected to the Labour party.

But this is one claim about May’s popularity I find extremely difficult to believe.

According to Have I Got News For You, who announced this straight-faced, Theresa May is the most popular British Prime Minister since the War.

As the little lad used to say on Different Strokes way back in the ’80s: ‘What you talkin’ about, Willis?’

So we’re being asked to believe that Theresa May, who doesn’t want to appear in the leader debates, says she doesn’t want to talk to the press, and makes very few public appearances, and when she does, they’re very carefully stage-managed, is more popular than, well, great British Prime Ministers like Clement Atlee, Harold MacMillan, Harold Wilson or even Tony Blair and Maggie Thatcher? Thatcher was a disaster for this country, but she was massively popular. She was also was massively unpopular, to the point where she was supposedly the most popular and unpopular British Prime Minister since the War. She’s still the great, molten idol of the Tories and Blairite Labour. The first thing Blair did was have her round No. 10 for tea after he won the election.

Thatcher was so strident and strong that she got the nickname ‘the Iron Lady’. May, by contrast, is very definitely weak and wobbly, as Mike’s pointed out, despite all the cries by the Tories and the press that she’s ‘strong’ and ‘stable’.

So the question has to be asked: do the Tories and the press really think that we’re all that stupid to believe this rubbish?

Or, alternatively, have they been drinking too much, or partaking of Jazz cigarettes or other illicit recreational substances? I mentioned in an earlier post that the mugwumps about which May was asked, apart from being an Algonkin word meaning ‘great chief’, were also the strange lizard creatures in David Cronenberg’s film version of The Naked Lunch. Very roughly based on the novel by William S. Burroughs, this is about a pest control man, who suffers massive, very weird hallucinations after he becomes addicted to the poisons he uses to exterminate the bugs and other vermin. The mugwumps in the movie are just some of the bizarre creatures he sees.

Boris Johnson this week called Corbyn a ‘mutton-headed mugwump’, and now the Tory press reckons she’s the most popular Prime Minister since Churchill. Whether or not illegal substances are involved, someone’s clearly tripping.


Theresa May and Mugwump celebrate her lead in the polls. Don’t have nightmares.

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The Robbins Report and the Expansion of University Education

March 16, 2016

The expansion of higher education and its extension to students from working class backgrounds was a policy that had its origins in a Conservative government. This was the Robbins Committee formed by Harold MacMillan’s government, which produced a report in 1963. This argued that higher education should be made available to everyone, who had the ability. They were assisted in this by the massive growth in secondary education, and the growing need for an educated class of technicians and workers for industry. The Labour party under Harold Wilson was also planning to found 40 new universities.

Sullivan, in his The Development of the British Welfare State, writes of this

Into this maelstrom of political activity, emerged the Robbins Report in October 1963. Its most important recommendation was that ‘courses in higher education should be available to all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so.’ In effect, this was to mean two things. First, that all candidates with good enough A-level passes would be eligible (thus satisfying the ability criteria). Second, however, it meant that local authorities would be committed to funding all candidates accepted by higher education institutions. For the recommendations of the Anderson Committee that all students in higher education should be grant-aided had been implemented while the Robbins Committee was sitting.

The implications of the Robbins proposals were momentous. First, the report assumed a 50 per cent increase in the number of higher education students by 1967, turning into a 250 per cent rise by 1980. As the bulk of these were to be in universities, new universities would need to be built. As the need for technological development was recognised by the committee, the Colleges of Advanced Technology, (CATs) were to be translated into universities. (p. 148).

Among its conclusions, the Report stated ‘But we believe that it is highly misleading to suppose that one can determine an upper limit to the number of people who could benefit from higher education, given favourable circumstances.’

‘[J]ust as since the war more children have stayed on at school for a full secondary education, so in turn more of their children will come to demand higher education during the 1970s…’

‘This in itself is … no guarantee that the quality of students will be maintained if there is an increased entry. There is, however, impressive evidence that large numbers of able young people do not at present reach higher education….

‘The desire for education, leading to better performance at school, appears to be affecting the children of all classes and all abilities alike, and it is reasonable to suppose that this trend will continue…

Finally, it should be observed that fears that expansion would lead to a lowering of the average ability of students in higher education have proved unfounded. Recent increases in numbers have not been accompanied by an increase in wastage and the measured ability of students appears to be as high as ever.’

(From Margaret Jones and Rodney Lowe, From Beveridge to Blair: The First Fifty years of Britain’s Welfare State, 1948-98 (Manchester: Manchester University Press 2002) 125).

It’s to SuperMac’s credit that his government did open up university to people from the working classes. Since Margaret Thatcher’s time, the Tories have increasingly wanted to shut it off to students from poorer backgrounds. Higher education has been privatised, funding cut, and student grants abolished. Instead they’ve been replaced with loans, which have escalated to exorbitant levels beyond the ability of many students to pay as free education has been abolished. Bliar’s government took the step of introducing tuition fees nearly a decade ago now, but it was Cameron’s coalition government that raised them to £9,000 a year. And many universities have been pressing for further increases.

What this means is that graduates and former students now live with considerable debts, to the point that they may never be able to afford a mortgage. This is despite Nick Robinson, one of the Beeb’s newscasters, leaping about the TV studio trying to convince everyone that student loans were going to be free money, because you didn’t have to pay them back if you didn’t earn a certain amount. Robinson’s enthusiasm for student loans is only to be expected. He was, after all, the head of the Federation of Conservative Students at Manchester University, and another link between the Tories and the BBC. When Bliar was discussing introducing student fees in the 1990s, there was considerable concern that this would make university too expensive for poorer students. The result would, in the view of one university spokesman, be that universities became a kind of finishing school for wealthy former public school pupils.

I don’t know if that’s quite happened yet. There are still many thousands of pupils willing and eager to go to university. However, with tuition fees rising to the tens of thousands and no funding available for those from lower or middle class backgrounds, it does seem to me that the Tories are aiming at taking us back to the situation before 1963. Four decades of Thatcherism is undoing SuperMac’s work, and higher education is being increasingly selective on the basis, not of talent, but of wealth.

Which is what you’d expect from a government led by toffs.

Tory MP David Willetts’ Defence of the Welfare State

February 13, 2016

The Tory MP, David Willetts, a member of the ‘One Nation’ group within the party, which had been set up to reconcile the Conservatives with the NHS, wrote a defence of the welfare state in his 1992 book, Modern Conservatism. This is surprising, not only because Willetts was a Tory, but also because he was Thatcher’s former adviser on social security. He wrote

Nobody is very clear why a Conservative should support a welfare state. It seems to fit in with the highmindedness of the Liberals and the egalitarianism of the Labour party. But what is conservative about it? If Conservatives do support it, is this mere political expediency? …

Why have a welfare state: efficiency and community
The are two types of argument for a welfare state. Neither is exclusively conservative, but they both tie in closely with two crucial elements of conservative philosophy – the belief in markets and the commitment to community.

The market argument for welfare state is that it contributes to the successful working of a capitalist economy … [for instance] the development of unemployment benefit and retirement pensions contributes to economic efficiency by making it easier for firms to shed labour and to recruit new workers from a pool. Health care and education both raise the quality of a nation’s ‘human capital’ …

We may have explained the need for some of the fundamental services of a welfare state, but we still need to show why the state has such a big role in financing and organising them. This is where the next stage of the efficiency argument comes in. If there are voluntary, private schemes they encounter the problem of adverse selection – the tendency to get the bad risks … Commercial insurers are trying to do the very opposite and only accept what they would regard as the good risks. The logic of this drives the government to intervene and require everyone to take out insurance at the same premium. At this point we … have, in effect, invented state-run national insurance…

The efficiency argument [can] be stated in an even more rarefied form: it is difficult for a homeless family to be fit, or for a homeless child to do well at school, and this, in the long run, is an economic cost – which makes it rational for us to step in.

Rather than develop even more ingenious economic arguments for the welfare state, there comes a point when we really have to confront a simple moral obligation towards fellow members of our community. Regardless of whether people in need have been reckless or feckless or unlucky and unfortunate there comes a point when the exact explanation of how they became destitute ceases to matter. They have a claim on us simply by virtue of being compatriots. The welfare state is an expression of solidarity with our fellow citizens.

The market and community arguments together explain the remarkable consensus in most advanced Western nations that some sort of welfare state is both necessary and desirable. They explain why a Conservative can support the welfare state and also provide grounds for criticising particular institutional arrangements if they are not living up to those principles…

Mutual Insurance
It is when one turns to the role of the welfare state in redistributing resources that political differences emerge. For socialists the welfare state is perhaps the most powerful tool available to achieve their objective of equality … And because many people think this must be the rationale for the welfare state, they assume that anti-egalitarian conservatives must also be anti-welfare state.

There is a different view of the working of a welfare state. For the conservative it is an enormous mutual insurance scheme, covering us against ill-health, unemployment and loss of earning power in old age… We think of the welfare state as redistributing resources to others. But if, instead, we think of our own relationship to the welfare state during our lives, it is clear that what it really does is to reallocate those resources through the different stages of the life cycle. In this way resources are taken from us when we are working, and we are given command over resources when we are being educated, or unemployed, or sick or retired.

In Margaret Jones and Rodney Lowe, From Beveridge to Blair: The First Fifty Years of Britain’s Welfare State 1948-98 (Manchester: Manchester University Press 2002).

Willetts is right about one of the best arguments for the welfare state being the moral duty towards one’s fellow citizens. It’s one of the major distinctions between British and Continental Socialism, and particularly between the Labour and Communist parties. Lenin and the Soviet Communists tended to sneer at the moral arguments for socialism and their adherents. Economic and sociological arguments, such as those marshalled by Fabians like Sidney and Beatrice Webb, are important but ultimately not as persuasive the moral imperative to make sure the poorest and weakest in society are properly protected and receive their due share.

Willett’s statement that the welfare state allows firms to get rid of staff easier, and frees up the labour market, is to my mind repulsive, but it might convince some businesspeople of the value of the welfare state as a worthwhile social investment.

Willetts wrote this nearly a quarter of century ago, however, and despite his arguments successive right-wing administrations are busy destroying the welfare state. This was certainly the case under Thatcher, and it’s continued under Major, Bliar and New Labour, and the current Tory administration. Jeremy Hunt and the other Tories wish to privatise the NHS by stealth, and thanks to aIDS nearly 590 disabled people have died of starvation or by their own hand, and 239,000 suffered severe mental illness.

Yet the Tories continue to maintain the sham illusion that somehow they are the party of the poor, and support the welfare state.

This is a lie. And any decent people in the Tories, who genuinely believe in the welfare state have two options. They should either stand up to Cameron and force him and his vile crew of old Etonian bruisers and butchers out, and instead elect a leadership that would have horrified Maggie by being wringing ‘wet’ in mould of Harold MacMillan and Rab Butler; or they should leave. Preferably they should also either join or vote for one of the opposition parties.

If they are genuinely supporters of the welfare state, then they must realise that they have absolutely no place in Cameron’s Tory party. Cameron’s a bog-standard Neoliberal with Hayek’s contempt for the poor. And anyone genuinely on the side of the poor, the sick and disabled should want to get rid of him and his clique.

Peter Cook versus Ian Duncan Smith: Now That Would Be A Speech Worth Watching

July 1, 2014

Peter Cook pic

The late awesome Peter Cook, Comedy Titan and Tormentor of the Establishment

I’ve just now reblogged Mike’s article from Vox Political, ‘DWP Debate Highlights Duncan Smith’s Failure to Perform’, describing at length the near total and absolute failure of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms. They have gone well over budget, and over time. Unfortunately, time and money are not the only things that they have cost. Tens of thousands of people had died in hunger and poverty thanks to RTU’s and his Coalition collaborators calculated destruction of the welfare state. Mike’s piece is worth reading for the video of Glenda Jackson laying into Smith in a devastating critique, which includes comments on the man’s personal sanctimonious demeanour. To which he responds by giving his usual unctuous, contemptuous and contemptible smirk that serves him instead of a reasoned rebuttal.

It reminded me of Peter Cook’s routine laying into Harold MacMillan when performing in cabaret at his club, The Establishment. Cook regularly used to perform spoofing MacMillan personally. In one of these acts, he plays MacMillan replying publicly to a letter he has received from a senior citizen, worried that his pension is no longer big enough to support him. After reading out the letter, Cook as MacMillan, says, ‘To which I reply,’ there is then heard a ripping noise as he tears the letter up, ‘Be of good cheer’. He then makes a very funny, satirical speech exactly in the manner adopted by politicians like the Conservatives when trying to tell you that despite the abundant evidence to the contrary, you are somehow better off.

This was at a time when satire was generally new, shocking and subversive. There was legislation expressly preventing comedians from performing impressions on television without the consent of the people they lampooned. When Private Eye first came out, it was seen as very suspect and only a few newsagents initially stocked it. The culture of deference to those in authority was so strong that when Robin Day wrote his autobiography in the 1980s, Grand Inquisitor, he was still shocked and enraged at That Was The Week That Was to describe it as ‘deplorable’.

Cook challenged that automatic deference to authority. And he wasn’t afraid to do it to their faces.

Supermac once turned up in the front row to watch one of Cook’s performances. The great man noticed, and homed in on him. He moved right in front of MacMillan, and said in his voice something along the lines of ‘And so I turn up, smiling stupidly when someone is sending me up’.

Watching RTU smirking inanely in front of Glenda Jackson, I wished Cook was still with us and was ready and willing to do the same to him. He’d have had a field day metaphorically disembowelling a pompous, incompetent nonentity like RTU.

Britain Becomes South Africa: Primary Teachers Bring Food for Starving Pupils

March 6, 2014

Monica Caro Foodbank

Monica Caro, Campaigner against the government’s benefit cuts, outside the Royal Free Hospital in Camden

A few years ago I used to work with an academic, who was very involved in civil rights work to improve conditions for the Black community. He later moved with his family to the new, post-Apartheid South Africa. Talking to him later, I found that he was appalled at the poverty in his local area, and was trying to find donors, who would provide much-needed equipment for the local school. Apart from the poverty that still afflicts the vast majority of Black South Africans, there area suffered from unemployment. As a result, many of the schoolchildren were coming to school hungry. To combat this, the government had launched the ‘Nelson Mandela Feeding Programme’. This gave schoolchildren a meal when the came to school. My friend told me that it was only a peanut butter sandwich. It’s hardly enough, but it was something. It was often the only meal they would have all day.

South Africa was, of course, notorious for having an immensely wealthy White ruling class, which excluded from power and dignity the Black and ‘Coloured’, or mixed race, population. The townships into which the Black population had been segregated was notorious for poverty and the violence this engenders. It was hoped and expected that with the fall of Apartheid and the ascent of Mandela to the presidency, this would end and Black and White South Africans could finally march together in peace and create a land of prosperity and justice for all.

This has, however, not come about. The ANC has become massively corrupt, so that its members now have enriched themselves and joined the ruling White elite, while conditions for the vast majority of the Black population are as poor than they were previously. They are not, however, alone in their poverty. Since the 1990s there has appeared a class of White poor, similarly trapped in grinding poverty. This was recently shown on British television by a Black British DJ on his programme about South Africa. Ten Years ago this class of poor Whites was the subject of a photographic exhibition, Outlands, put on by a White South African photographer, intended to show an aspect of South Africa, that was unknown in Europe.

Starving Schoolchildren in Britain

Unfortunately, Britain seems to be joining South Africa in the emergence of a corrupt, obscenely wealthy elite, while the mass of its population are depressed into poverty and destitution, a poverty that includes children coming to school hungry.

Yesterday I posted a piece about Monday’s Panorama documentary on the massive expansion of food banks across the UK. One of the commenters to this blog, AmnesiaClinic, remarked that there had been reports in Britain of schoolteachers bringing in food to pupils from homes that had been hit by benefit sanctions. AM-FM has kindly provided the link to one report of this.

It’s an article from the newspaper, Ham&High, published on September 29 2013. Entitled ‘Camden primary teachers bring food into classes to feed hungry pupils hit by benefit cuts’, it reported the finding by Monica Caro, the vice-chair of the Camden Association of Street Properties, that schoolteacher in Camden were bring their own food from home into school to feed primary school pupils aged five to seven, whose parents had been hit by cuts to their benefit. Ms Caro, a volunteer and carer, was working with Petra Dando, a prominent campaigner in the borough against the government’s cuts. She was also shocked that the Royal Free Hospital had also opened a food bank. The hospital had opened a stall asking for residents to donate food.

Ms Caro said: “I thought, ‘Oh my god, if the Royal Free is now making a Comic Relief-style appeal for food then surely the government can hear that things are really desperate.’ I voted for the Conservatives and I wish I never had.

“It’s like living in Robin Hood times, they are taking from the poor to give to the rich.”

The article notes the effect of the government’s benefit cap, which means that no family can earn more than £500 in benefits, as well as the notorious bedroom tax. It stated that hit by the tax could lose between 14 and 25 per cent of their benefits.

The article quoted the comments of local lawyer, Rebekah Carrier, who was working on a number of challenges to the benefit changes in the High Court, who was particularly critical of the benefit cap. She said

“The people most badly affected by the benefit cap are families with three or more children. Often all of their benefits go on paying their rent and they have nothing with which to feed their children.”

Sally Gimson, a local councillor in Highgate, said she had been told by residents that they are skipping meals in order to make ends meet due to the bedroom tax.

It also reported that the Highgate Newtown Community Centre was going to open lunch clubs from the 4th October that year, where people in need could get a cooked meal for £1. The Centre’s director, Andrew Sanalitro, was pessimistic about the effect of the coming winters. He stated “There will be a spike in problems when winter comes because of heating bills. It’s just becoming a lot harder for people to cope.”

The article can be found at: http://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/camden_primary_teachers_bring_food_into_classes_to_feed_hungry_pupils_hit_by_benefit_cuts_1_2691248.

This is disgusting and shameful. Britain, unlike South Africa, is an immensely wealthy country. I believe it is the seventh biggest economy in the world, but many of its people are facing the return of the grinding poverty our great-grandparents faced in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Malnutrition is also returning, along with diseases like rickets, that were common in the desperation and squalor of Victorian slums. It had been hoped such poverty had been banished through the welfare state, the expanding economy and the increased prosperity of the post-War years. ‘You’ve never had it so good!’, boasted the Conservative Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan. Well, the country as a whole is still immensely wealthy, even if Gideon, sorry, George Osborne has managed to stall the economy with his daft Neo-Liberal policies. Yet poverty is increasing. A quarter of all households have seen a decline in their income and standard of living through inflation and the Coalition’s imposition of wage restraint. And conditions for the very poorest are becoming increasingly desperate. So desperate, that they resemble South Africa, a country struggling to shake off the legacy of Apartheid and afflicted with massive corruption and the emergence of a non-racist, but still brutally exploitative ruling class. Which pretty much describes Britain under the Coalition, although racism still seems prevalent in the Tory party, despite Cameron’s attempts to root it out and protestations to the contrary. Witness the vans the Coalition circulated in Black and Asian areas to encourage illegal immigrants to go home.

Such poverty should have no place in 21st century Britain. It can only get worse, much worse, under the Coalition. If Scotland leaves the UK, taking its North Sea oil with it, then I believe we will see true conditions comparable to the Third World in what’s left of the UK.

The Coalition has to go, and Neo-Liberalism rejected and thrown into the dustbin of daft and exploitative economic policies.