Posts Tagged ‘Housing’

Fighting Racism Means Restoring the Welfare State

July 17, 2020

One of the most important things I learned when I was studying Geography for ‘A’ level nearly forty years ago was that poverty leads to political extremism. Part of the course was on the Third World, although I now gather that term, coined by Gandhi, is now out of favour. It was fascinating. We were taught that the countries of the Developing World varied in their levels of economic development and that many of their problems stemmed from the neocolonial system put in place when the European imperial power granted their independence. In return for their political freedom, the former colonies were required to confine themselves to primary industry – mining and agriculture. They were forced into a relationship with their former masters in which they were to trade their agricultural and mineral products for finished European goods. Punitive tariffs were imposed on industrial goods produced by these nations. They are therefore prevented from developing their own manufacturing industries and diversifying their economies. And as the primary resources they export to the global north are produced by a large number of countries, competition works against them. If one country tries to raise the price of copra, for example, the developed countries can simply find another nation willing to supply it at a lower cost. And so the Developing World is kept poor. And that poverty will drive people to political extremism – Communism and Fascism.

Poverty, Economic and Political Crisis and the Rise of Fascism

The same forces were at work behind the rise of Fascism in Europe. Part of the impetus behind the formation of Italian Fascism and German Nazism was frustration at the international settlement at the end of the First World War. Italy was angered by the great powers’ refusal to grant it the territories it claimed, like the Yugoslavian island of Fiume. Germany was humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles and the imposition of crippling reparations. The new democratic system in both countries was unstable. The Nazis made their first electoral breakthrough as the champions of the small farmers of Schleswig-Holstein in the 1920s. But arguable what gave them the greatest spur to power was the 1929 Wall Street crash and the massive global recession this caused. Combined with the breakdown of the ruling Weimar coalition between the Catholic Centre Party, the German  Social Democrats – the rough equivalent of the British Labour Party and the two Liberal parties – the crisis boosted Nazism as a mass movement and allowed President Hindenberg, then ruling by decree, to consider giving them a place in power in order to break the political deadlock. He did, and the result was the twelve years of horror of the Third Reich. Faced with rising unemployment, national humiliation and social and political chaos, millions of people were attracted by the Nazis denunciation of international capitalism and Marxist Communism and Socialism, which they blamed on the Jews.

The Collapse of Louisiana Oil Industry and the Witchcraft Scare

Sociologists and folklorists critically examining the witchcraft scare of the 1990s also noticed the role poverty and wealth inequalities have in creating social panics and the persecution of outsider groups. From the ’70s onwards a myth had developed that there existed in society multigenerational Satanic groups practising child abuse and infant sacrifice. A critical investigation by the British government over here – the Fontaine Report – and the FBI over the Pond found absolutely no evidence that these sects ever existed. But large numbers of people uncritically believed in them. As this belief spread, innocent people were accused of membership of such cults and their mythical atrocities. As the American folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand pointed out, this witch hunt emerged and spread at a time when the gap between rich and poor in America was increasing. One of the places hit by the scare was Louisiana. Louisiana had a strong oil industry, and the state levied a tax on its profits to subsidize local housing. This was fine until the industry went into recession. Suddenly ordinary, hard-working Louisianans found they could no longer afford their mortgages. There were cases where the banks were simply posted the keys to properties as their former owners fled elsewhere. With poverty and insecurity rising, people started looking round for a scapegoat. And they found it in these mythical Satanic conspiracies and in real, New Age neo-Pagan religions, which they identified with them.

1990s Prosperity and Positive Challenges to Affirmative Action

It’s a truism that poverty creates social and racial conflict, as different groups fight over scarce resources. There was a period in the 1990s when it looked like racism was well on the wane in America, Britain and Europe. Blacks were still at the bottom of American society, but some Blacks were doing well, and challenging stereotypes and the need for affirmative action. The Financial Times approvingly reported a self-portrait by a Black American artist, in which he pointedly exaggerated his ‘negrotic’ features in order to make the point that these didn’t define him. There were cases of Black college professors turning down promotion to senior, prestigious positions at their seats of learning because they didn’t want people to think that they hadn’t earned them through their own merits. They hated the idea that they were just being given these places because of their colour. Whites further down the social scale were also challenging the need for affirmative action in a different way, which didn’t involve racist abuse and violence. The FT reported that four American firemen had changed their names to Hispanic monickers, as this was the only way they believed they could get promotion under a system designed to give preference to ethnic minorities. Back in Blighty, some TV critics naively applauded the lack of racism in a series of Celebrity Big Brother, before that all shattered as Jade Goody and one of her friends racially bullied Indian supermodel and film star Shilpa Shetty. Sociological studies revealed that people’s accent was more important than their race in terms of social identity and acceptance. And then when Barack Obama won the American election in 2008, the chattering classes around the world hailed this as the inauguration of a new, post-racial America. But wiser voices reminded the world that the terrible racial inequalities remained.

Austerity, Poverty, and the Destruction of the Welfare State Behind Growth in Racism

All this has been shattered with the imposition of austerity following the banking crash, and the increasing impoverishment of working people across the world. The crash has allowed Conservative government to cut spending on welfare programmes, force through even more privatisations and cuts, and freeze and slash workers’ pay. At the same time, the top 1 per cent has become even more incredibly wealth through massively increased profits and tax cuts.

One of the many great speakers at last Saturday’s Arise Festival on Zoom – I think it was Richard Burgon, but I’m not sure – remarked that talking to people in the north, he found that they weren’t racist. They didn’t hate Blacks and ethnic minorities. But they were worried about access to jobs, opportunities and housing. He made the point that we need to restore these, to fight for all working people and not allow the Tories to divide us. He’s right. If you read rags like the Scum, the Heil and the Depress, the line they take is of virtuous Whites being deprived of employment and housing by undeserving immigrants. Who also sponge off the state on benefits, like the White unemployed the Tories also despise. But they’re obviously not going to tell the world that they are responsible for the shortage of jobs, the insecure conditions for those, who are lucky to have them, and that the shortage of affordable housing is due to them selling off the council houses and defining ‘affordable’ in such a way that such homes are still out of the pocket of many ordinary people. Even if enough of them are built by companies eager to serve the wealthy.

Austerity and Black Lives Matter

It’s austerity that has given urgency to the Black Lives Matter movement. Blacks and some other ethnic minorities have been acutely affected by austerity, as they were already at the bottom of society. If prosperity had continued, if the banking crash had not happened and austerity not imposed, I don’t believe that BLM would have received the wave of global support it has. Blacks would still have occupied the lowest rung of the social hierarchy, but conditions would not have been so bad that they have become a crisis.

White Trump Voters Whites Disadvantaged by Affirmative Action

At the same time, some disadvantaged Whites would not have given their votes to Donald Trump. While Trump is a grotty racist himself, who has surrounded himself with White supremacists and members of the Alt Right, some sociologists have counselled against accusing all of his supporters as such. Years ago Democracy Now’s anchorwoman, Amy Goodman, interviewed a female academic who had done a sociological survey of Conservative White Trump supporters. She found that they weren’t racist. But they did feel that they were being denied the jobs and opportunities they deserved through unfair preference given to other ethnic groups. She likened their mentality to people in a queue for something. Waiting at their place in line, they were annoyed by others pushing in ahead of them. And this was made worse when the queue jumpers responded to their complaints by accusing them of racism. I think the sociologist herself was politically liberal, but she stated that the Conservatives Whites she’d studied should not automatically be called racist and it was dangerous to do so.

Conclusion

It’s clear from all this that if we really want to tackle racism, we need to restore jobs, proper wages, trade union power, real affordable and council housing, and a proper welfare state. These are desperately needed by all members of the working class. I’ve no doubt that they’re most acutely needed by Blacks, but this certainly isn’t confined to them. Restoring prosperity would bring all the different racial groups that make up the working class together, and it would stop the resentment that leads to racial conflict by one group feeling disadvantaged for the benefit of the others.

 

Radio 4 Programme On Rise of Eco-Fascism and Anti-Humanism

July 10, 2020

According to next week’s Radio Times for 11-17 July 2020, Monday’s edition of Analysis on Radio 4 is about ‘Humans vs the Planet’. The blurb for the programme on page 119 of the magazine reads

As Covid-19 forced humans into lockdown, memes emerged showing the earth was healing thanks to our absence from nature. These were false claims, but their popularity revealed how seductive the idea that “we are the virus” can be. At its most extreme, this way of thinking leads to eco-fascism, the belief that the harm humans can do to Earth can be reduced by cutting the number of non-White people. But the Green movement is also challenged by a less hateful form of this mentality known as “doomism” – a sense that humans will inevitably cause ecological disaster.

These sentiments have been around for a very long time. Earlier this year, a female professor of Queer philosophy at one of the new universities published her own manifesto for saving the planet. Dubbed ‘professor Goth’ by one of the Conservative news sites that covered the story, she advocates saving the planet through making humanity extinct. It’s a radical, misanthropic, anti-human stance that neither unique nor original to her. About a quarter of a century ago in the mid-90s the radical Green group, VHMNT, was agitating for the same policy. VHMNT, pronounced ‘Vehement’ , stood for Voluntary Human Extinction. It was peaceful and didn’t advocate violence, but wanted humanity to save the planet through voluntary extinction. Those who joined it vowed not to reproduce.

Some left-wing, ecologically aware scientists have been accused of possessing the same mindset, but willing to contemplate much more aggressive tactics. Over a decade ago, back in the early years of this century, Conservatives accused a scientist of advocating the extermination of humanity through disease. He had been speaking at a conference on the ecological crisis, and made some comment about the threat of new diseases to humanity as the environment deteriorates. His defenders argue that he was not advocating it, simply stating that such a disease would arise. Many Conservatives have a deep hatred of the Green movement. At the extremes, they see it as an anti-human, pagan nature cult aimed at the communistic redistribution of wealth and with its origins in Nazism. Hence all the rants by conspiracy-peddler Alex Jones about Obama taking over America by declaring a state of emergency and forcing Americans into FEMA camps and his denunciation of eco-friendly ‘Hobbit homes’.

The SF author, Bruce Sterling, also predicted that there would spring up guerrilla groups also dedicated to the mass culling of humanity to protect the planet. His 1990s novel, Heavy Weather, is set in a Texas turning to desert through the aquifers drying up, devastated through violent hurricanes created by a climate becoming increasingly extreme. These have left masses of Americans homeless, living in refugee camps. The story follows the adventures of the alienated son of one of the rich families, as he falls in with an underground group of outlaw storm chasers. One of the characters he encounters is an angry young man, who belongs to a terrorist organization attempting to save the planet through violence. The man describes how people might be killed by poisoning, after model boats are floated on the water of a reservoir. People die, but nobody is responsible. He compares it to the lynching of Blacks by the Klan. Blacks died, but again, nobody was responsible.

The book was a work of fiction and Sterling is very definitely not a racist or an advocate of such terrorism. It’s simply a a fictional treatment of what might arise if climate change and the deterioration of the environment becomes acute.

As for the hatred of the non-White peoples of the Developing World, this no doubt comes from the fact that families in these nations are traditionally larger than those of western Whites. The birthrate in Britain is actually below the level required for the maintenance of the population at the present level. The country’s population is only increasing due immigration. Without it, it would be falling. Hence the racist alarm at the growth of Britain’s Black and Asian populations. It is the expansion of the human population that is causing the current environmental crisis, but much of this is due to excessive consumption of energy and resources by the Developed West.

The birthrate is also falling in the Developing World as literacy rates rise and these countries modernize. This has led some demographers to fear that instead of a population explosion, as feared in the 1970s, there will be population crash. It’s predicted that this will happen, if at all, sometime around 2050. Fearing a shortage of labour, they predict that states will compete to encourage immigration. It has also been predicted that one of the African countries, that today has a terrible infant mortality rate and left-expectancy, will become the first country to suffer catastrophic population decline.

The programme, Analysis: Humans vs the Planet, is at 8.30 pm in the evening on Radio 4.

Dominic Cummings Wants to Take Housing Out of the Hands of Local Authorities

June 28, 2020

I was at a Zoom meeting Friday evening of my local constituency Labour party, Bristol South. The evening was devoted to a discussion of how the party should respond and formulate proper policies following the Keir Starmer’s national policy review. The areas under discussion that evening were housing and local democracy, and health and social care after the Coronavirus. Many members that the way to restore proper health and social care would be to give power back to the trade unions, and proper wages and career prospects to the women and men working in our NHS and care sector.

Local democracy is rather more complicated, however. As has been shown by the news over the last couple of days, many local authorities are now in dire financial straits thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic. The Tories did promise that they’d give them all the funding they needed to cope, but it’s been a typical Tory promise: the funding hasn’t materialised. The result is that a number of local authorities are facing bankruptcy. Wiltshire in the West Country is one, and Bristol may well be another. Bristol has fared better than most, as the much-maligned elected mayor, Marvin, did manage to sort out the financial mess and serious budget deficits left by the previous elected mayor, George Ferguson. It seems under Red Trousers there was serious financial mismanagement. This really doesn’t surprise me, as Ferguson announced one year there would be tens of millions of cuts, but that we shouldn’t be afraid of them. Before he became an independent, Ferguson was a Lib Dem, but he may as well have been a Tory.

It’s unclear what the proper spheres of national and local government are. Andrew Marr has published a book on this very issue, but I stopped reading it and put it away due to the flagrant anti-Labour bias on his TV show. I guess I’ll have to dig it out and start reading it properly, as this could become a major issue in the next few years. It is a major problem how we can get the British public involved in both national and local government, so that they don’t feel ignored and marginalized by the authorities.

And there’s a serious problem for local authorities on the horizon. Apparently Dominic Cummings wants to take housing out of the hands of local authorities. This is extremely alarming, given the closeness between the Tories and developers, as shown by Jenrick’s scandalous conduct over at Tower Hamlets. As Mike and the others have revealed on their blogs, Jenrick allowed Tory donor Richard ‘Dirty’ Desmond to develop Westferry in London against existing planning regulations or the wishes of the local authority after Dirty Des gave the Conservatives a £12,000 bung. After twelve years of power, we’re back to John Major and New Labour levels of sleaze and corruption again. It’s feared that if the Tories do take it housing into national government, they’ll just let off a free-for-all of development.

The Labour party in Bristol is trying to encouraging the renovation of older properties as well as the construction of new housing. Not only does this also provide accommodation, but it also employs more people. There are also problems with the current planning legislation in that developers can convert old commercial properties into residential housing in areas around music venues. This has been done in the old office blocks surrounding the Bristol pub, the Fleece and Firkin, which has been a centre for live musical performances in Bristol since the 1980s. The problem is that at the moment the developers don’t have to do anything to protect the homes’ prospective residents from the noise, so that they complain instead about the music venue. The local authority in Bristol is trying to bring in some of the continental legislation that protects existing music venues by insisting that the developers must install double glazing and so on when they build flats and homes in such areas.

The party on Friday was expecting the Tories to make the announcement they were taking housing away from local authorities today, but wondered if they actually would after the scandal with Jenrick. I haven’t heard that they have. But it’s clearly something they would dearly love to do. If that happens it will lead to housing and building development that isn’t wanted by the existing residents of an area, and the further destruction of local democracy.

This is an area which needs to be very closely watched and guarded.

Bristol’s Elected Mayor Supports Schools That Refuse to Open

May 30, 2020

Boris Johnson is desperate to get the children back to school as quickly as possible if he can, and has decided that schools will reopen next week for children of specific ages. Parents and teachers are naturally worried about this, especially as the public schools won’t reopen until September. It seems to be once again one law for the plebs and another for the entitled rich. And once again, Boris is utterly complacent about the health and welfare of ordinary people in his desire to get the economy moving once again. So long as the elite don’t get it, he’s not worried.

Mike has published a series of pieces about this, including the very strict regulations governing the movement of young children when they return to the classroom. Mike has commented that this seems less like schooling and more like a prison. The Tories have tried to justify this by pointing to Denmark, which has already allowed its children to return to school. This is not the first time the Tories have embarked on a disastrous policy and tried to justify it as just following the Danes. And that makes me wonder what else they aren’t telling us about our friends across the North Sea. Way back in the 1990s the Tories laid off a vast number of civil servants. This, they declared, would cut bureaucracy and reinvigorate the economy. The Danes had done it, and so boosted theirs. But they didn’t follow the Danish policy absolutely. It had worked in Denmark, I was told by a Danish friend, because their government had given its departing state bureaucrats very handsome final payments of about £40,000 or more, and encouraged them to set up their own businesses. The Tories didn’t do any of this. They just laid people off. This also had a knock on effect on the economy. I’ve heard that for every civil service job, there’s 1 1/2 jobs supported by it in the wider economy, as those employed by the state purchase goods and services. Which meant that when our civil servants were kicked out, they took an awful lot of other people in private industry with them. Now that the Tories are telling us that the Danes are sending their children back to school, I do wonder what it is that the Danes are doing right, which our benighted government isn’t and won’t tell us about.

Mike has also put up a piece on his blog examining the question of parental responsibility if a child contracts the Coronavirus or the Kawasaki disease from school. It seems very clear – in British law parents are held accountable if they send their child to a hazardous environment and as a result they become ill or injured. This is regardless whether they have been urged or told to do so by the government. Parents therefore have a very strong case for refusing to allow their children to go to school if they are afraid for their safety.

Civil disobedience: would parents be irresponsible to send their children back to school now?

These concerns are also shared by Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin Rees, and his cabinent. Like many Bristolians I received an email last Wednesday from Rees discussing what he and his team were doing about the coronavirus. Rees particularly mentioned schools and stated that he supported those schools that would remain closed. Rees said

Our city’s teachers and school staff have been working even harder than ever to keep schools open for children who are vulnerable and whose parents are key workers. Rather than accepting the 1 June date from the Government, Councillor Anna Keen, a local schoolteacher and our cabinet member for education, and our education team have met regularly with head teachers. The government made the schools opening a binary debate by not discussing their announcement with unions but I am afraid this has been consistent with their continuing failure to engage with cities on decisions, throughout the crisis. 

We have also met with school leaders representing teaching and children across Bristol throughout the pandemic, listening carefully to their views and concerns. It was very clear that they did not want a blanket approach across Bristol – and the teaching unions in Bristol support this too.

Like other councils, our position is clear:  schools should stay closed until they can begin to reopen safely. We are 100% backing teachers to work with parents and communities to make decisions on how their schools return, as Anna’s blog set out on Wednesday.

We also backed the unions’ calls for scientific advice on child transmission to be published. From the start of last week, all parents and carers have begun receiving a letter from the council, via schools, to remind them that they do not have to send their children in and that they should not expect their school to open on a particular date, in a particular way.

The Tories and their pet press and media have done their best to portray those teachers and unions objecting to schools reopening as selfish and unconcerned with the welfare of their pupils. This is the opposite of the truth. I realise that there are bad, sometimes terribly bad teachers, but most teachers are very concerned about the performance and wellbeing of their charges. But the Tories have always hated teachers and demonised them as part of their campaign to break the unions, privatise education and indoctrinate them with approved Tory values. This latest attack on teachers worried for the health of their students is just more of this same rubbish.

I’m not a great fan of Rees. He’s made some decisions for Bristol that have been very foolish, and has alienated many people in south Bristol with his refusal to accept residents’ plans for housing development in Hengrove Park in favour of his own scheme, which was rejected by the regulator. But this time Rees is right.

He and Bristol’s school heads and teacher are worried about schoolchildren’s health and protection against the Coronavirus. Boris isn’t, and shouldn’t be believed whatever comes out of his mouth.

Boris Isn’t Churchill, He’s Neville Chamberlain

May 21, 2020

Okay, it’s finally happened. I think people have been expecting this, but were hoping that somehow it wouldn’t come true. But it has. Mike today has put up a piece reporting that the death toll from the Coronavirus has hit 62,000. 51,000 people are known to have died, according to some of the people, whose tweets about this tragedy Mike has reproduced in his article. That’s more than those killed during the Blitz.

How do I feel about this? Absolutely furious and bitterly ashamed. Britain is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, but we now have the second worst death rate from this foul disease in the world. And it can all be put down to our leaders’ incompetence, their doctrinaire pursuit of neoliberalism and private industry at the expense of the res publica, the commonweal, the public good. And their willingness to sacrifice the health, safety and lives of the great British people for the sake of their corporate profits and the narrow interests of their own class.

Mike, Zelo Street and a host of other left-wing bloggers and activists have published article after article minute describing the Tories’ culpable negligence. They were warned in advance by scientists and medical experts that a fresh pandemic was coming sometime. As you know, I despise New Labour, but Blair, Brown and the rest nevertheless took the threat seriously. They prepared for it, setting up appropriate government and NHS departments. What did the Tories do? Shelve all these plans, because they were committed to austerity and they didn’t think the money spent on these precautions were worth it. 2016 the government wargamed a flu pandemic, and this pointed out all the problems we’ve subsequently experienced with the Coronavirus. And what happened after that? Zilch. For the same reasons the plans were shelved and weren’t updated and the specialist departments closed down.

And the Tories’ commitment to austerity also meant they prevented the NHS from being adequately prepared for the outbreak. It had too few intensive care beds, the supplies of PPE were too small, and underlying it is the plain fact that the NHS has been criminally starved of proper funding for years. Because, for all that they’re praising it now, the Tories are desperate to sell it off and have a private healthcare system like the one that works in America. You know, the one country that now has a worse death toll than ours.

Austerity has also exacerbated the impact of the disease in another way. It hits the poor the hardest. Which is unsurprising – the poor often suffer worse from disease, because they don’t have such good diets, jobs, housing and living conditions as the rich. In this case, poorer people do jobs that bring them more into contact with others, which leaves them more exposed to infection. I really am not surprised, therefore, that Blacks and Asians are therefore far more likely than Whites to contract Covid-19. There are other factors involved, of course – ethnic minorities as a rule tend to live far more in multigenerational households than Whites, which increases the risk of infection. But Blacks and some ethnic groups also tend to do the worse, most poorly paid jobs and that’s also going to leave them vulnerable.

And Boris is personally responsible for this debacle. He was warned in November that the Coronavirus was a threat and January and February of this years the scientists were telling him to put the country into lockdown. But he didn’t. He was too preoccupied with ‘getting Brexit done’. He also didn’t want to put this country into lockdown, because it would harm the economy, which meant that the big businesses that donate to him and his scummy party would take a hit. And he and Dominic Cummings and certain others also subscribe to the Social Darwinist view that the disease should be allowed to take its toll on the weakest, because they were useless eaters holding back all the biologically superior rich businessmen the party idolizes. It was a simply just culling the herd, nothing to worry about. And apart from that, Boris was just personally too damn idle. He doesn’t like to read his briefs, he didn’t turn up to the first five meetings of Cobra, and rather than working shot off back home at the weekends. And he was also far too interested in pursuing his relationship with his latest partner.

Johnson fancies himself as Winston Churchill. A few years ago he published a book about the great War Leader, that was so execrable it was torn to shreds by John Newsinger over at Lobster. In this, the Blonde Buffoon resembles Jim Hacker from the Beeb’s comedy series, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. Whenever Hacker had some grand idea that would raise him or his administration above mediocrity, he’d start posing and speaking like Churchill. Boris hasn’t quite done that, or at least, not in public. But he certainly shares Hacker’s vanity in this respect.

But he isn’t Churchill. He’s Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain. Churchill hated Nazi Germany and was determined to destroy it. Chamberlain, on the other hand, wanted to avoid war. Hence he came back from Munich waving a worthless piece of paper, which he proclaimed as ‘peace in our time’. He was thus absolutely unprepared for Hitler’s invasion of Poland. But the Tories got rid of him, and replaced him with Churchill.

Johnson was unprepared for the Coronavirus. He should have been removed long ago and replaced with someone, who could do something about it. But that would mean replacing the entire Tory party, as none of the Prime Ministers since Brown have been serious about preparing for this threat.

And thanks to them, more people have now died than in the Blitz.

What an under, damnable disgrace!

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/05/20/uk-coronavirus-deaths-hit-62000-no-wonder-johnson-only-appears-for-pmqs/

 

Vox Political Commemorates the Real Heroes and Ordinary People Killed by the Virus

April 10, 2020

On Monday, Boris Johnson was taken into hospital, and thence into intensive care, where he was given oxygen. Johnson had contracted Coronavirus, probably through his own willful negligence in continuing to shake hands with people. Doctors and experts on the virus have told us not to, but Johnson blithely ignore them and decided that simply washing your hands afterwards was enough. It wasn’t. Despite Tory claims that he was simply going into hospital for checks, it was clear that something was seriously wrong with him, although he has not been put on a ventilator and his condition has been described as stable. The Tory press, however, couldn’t let his illness go to waste, not when it provided ammunition for another attack on the hated EU. One of the rags carried a two page spread claiming that he’d got it from the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. This was rubbish, but the Tory press has never let that stop them publishing a story before.

Since Johnson’s admission, he’s received thousands of messages from all across the political spectrum, which him a speedy recovery. Now I don’t wish Johnson or anyone to die, and hope he does recover. But I have far more sympathy with the ordinary people, who have been claimed by the disease, and our truly heroic NHS peeps and other care workers, who have stepped up and done their duty. They have shown immense courage, compassion and professionalism, and this country truly does owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. Many of them have come out of retirement to help fight this disease.

Mike commented in his post about Johnson’s illness that our prime minister won’t die of stupidity. He won’t. He is receiving excellent care. But others aren’t so lucky. As Emily Maitlis pointed out on Newsnight, and so sent the loathsome Brendan O’Neil of Spiked into another frothing rant about the left-wing media, the disease is not fended off through character and fortitude, no matter what the Tories say. If so, its victims would be far, far fewer. The people particularly at risk from the disease are the poor, the low paid, people living in poorer conditions, performing jobs that put them in greater contact with others. Those who cannot afford to isolate themselves as thoroughly and completely as the wealthy sectors of society. People living in cramped conditions, in multiple occupancy houses or high-rise flats, for example.

These are the people who are in danger of being forgotten. And so Mike has started commemorating their deaths, and the sacrifice of the medical professionals, who have also succumbed on his blog. These are the posts he’s put up so far

Coronavirus: let’s spare a thought for the dead

Coronavirus: more courageous health workers die fighting the virus

If there’s someone you want commemorated on Mike’s blog, please go over there and let him know.

Everyone who’s fallen should be commemorated and their memory respected, not just Johnson.

See also: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/04/06/coronavirus-save-your-sympathy-boris-johnson-wont-be-the-prime-minister-who-died-of-stupidity/

Coronavirus: Maitlis praised for pointing out nobody is saved by fortitude and character

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/spiked-maitlis-moan-moronic.html

 

Dawn Butler Defends Labour Manifesto, Says Tories Stole Labour Policies

February 11, 2020

Last Saturday’s I for 8th February 2020 carried a piece about Dawn Butler by the paper’s political editor, Hugo Gye, ‘Butler: as deputy leader, I’d be like John Prescott without the violence.’ This consisted largely of an interview with Butler followed by how well the various deputy leadership contenders were faring. Butler argued that she should be leader as she was ‘the experience candidate’, having served under two Labour Prime Ministers. She also claimed that she could unite all sections of the party, and was therefore the unity candidate. She also stated that as deputy leader she’d be like John Prescott without the violence, because she doesn’t intend to punch anyone. As for her chances of winning – the favourite is Angela Rayner – she said that throughout her life as a Black female she’d always had someone telling her she had no chance.

But this isn’t what I found interesting. That was what she said about the positive reception she’d experienced of Labour’s manifesto, and that the Tories had stolen Labour’s policies. Gye wrote

I’ve put up several pieces about Butler, criticising her demand for all-Black shortlists and her statement that she intends to fight misogyny. The all-Black shortlists could make racism even worse, as some Whites in majority ethnic neighbourhoods with a Black MP may feel excluded. Her statement about misogyny is questionable because of the way what is considered misogynist has been expanded to include not just definite cases of sexism, but more dubious areas like microaggression. These are supposed to be the tiny, everyday pieces of sexism that affect women’s confidence and feeling of self-worth. Like calling them ‘Love’. At the same time, Private Eye has claimed that, rather than not having been a member of any coup against Corbyn, as she claims, Butler was very definitely one of the participants. This casts doubt on her position as a left-wing candidate.

But I think she is almost certainly right about the positive response of the public to Labour’s policies. In polls Corbyn’s policies of renationalisation and the restoration of workers’ rights and the welfare state were well-received. It’s why the Tory media had to resort to portraying him as an anti-Semite and communist or Trotskyite. And the Tories have been forced to appear to steal Labour’s policies. After Labour announced its policies on the NHS, the Tories announced they were going to invest a record amount in the health service and built more than 40 new hospitals. This is all lies, but it shows how they have been forced publicly to move away from their real policies of starving the NHS of funding and closing hospitals. Just as they have been forced to renationalise Northern Rail, although some of that was an attempt to divert attention away from the problems caused by government failures in the construction and maintenance of the tracks and infrastructure, on which the trains run, which is still government-owned. Just as the Tories have also promised – again, it’s just lies – a massive campaign of house construction as well as the expansion of the rail network.

I feel that even though Labour will be out of power for the next five years, it can still do much good by maintaining those left-wing policies and trying to force the Tories to move left, so that when the Tories – and they will – their right-wing policies will be soundly contrasted with Labour’s socialist programme that will be far more successful. If this is done properly, it will show to the public that socialism hasn’t been superceded by Thatcherism. Quite the opposite – it is Thatcherism that is now obsolete.

My fear, however, is that if Starmer and Rayner get into power, they will turn the clock back to Blair, and Britain will be further decimated, economically and socially, by the Thatcherite policies of privatisation of industry, schools and the NHS, and the destruction of the welfare state.

Channel 4 Threatened by the Tories with Privatisation… Again

February 6, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Private Eye Attacks Hypocrisy of Non-Dom Tax Dodging Press Barons

January 29, 2020

Five years ago in 2015 the then leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, outraged the press barons in Fleet Street by suggesting the abolition of non-dom tax status for people actually living in the UK. This frightened them, as many of them, such as Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of the I and Evening Standard, David and Frederick Barclay, the weirdo owners of the Torygraph, and Heil owner Viscount Rothermere, also avoid paying British tax through non-dom status. There was therefore a flurry of articles in their papers scorning Miliband’s suggestion and declaring that if it came in, it would bankrupt Britain by forcing all the millionaires in London and elsewhere to flee the country. And the papers certainly did not tell their readers that there was more than a bit of self-interest behind their attacks on Miliband.

Private Eye, which, according to editor Ian Hislop, skewers humbug, therefore published an article in their ‘In the Back’ section, ‘Street of Sham’ in the issue for 17th to 30th April 2015 attacking this fine display of gross hypocrisy. The piece ran

So consuming was the Tory press’s rage at Ed Milibands’s plan to make Russian oligarchs and gulf petro-billionaires in London liable for the same taxes as British citizens, its hacks forgot to declare their interest.

“London backlash over Ed’s non-dom attack,” boomed the front-page of the London Evening Standard, as if a mob had descended on Labour HQ to defend London’s much-loved oligarchs and hedge-fund managers. “Attacking non-doms could backfire on us,” continued an editorial inside. Sarah Sands, the Standard’s Uriah Heepish editor, did not risk her career by saying who the “us” included – namely her boss, Standard proprietor Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian who last year dodged the Eye’s repeated questions over his own domicile.

Silence infected the Telegraph too, where not one of the reporters who warned that Labour’s “cataclysmic” decision would drive away “tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and business leaders” mentioned that their owners, the weirdo Barclay twins, reside in Monaco and the Channel Islands to avoid British tax.

Instead they quoted James Hender, head of private wealth at Saffery Champness accountants, who warned that the rich may leave. The Telegraph didn’t tell its readers that Hender boasts of his long experience ensuring that “the most tax efficient strategies are adopted for non-UK situs assets” for his non-dom clients.

It was the same at the Mail, which failed to declare that its owner, 4th Viscount Rothermere, is treated by the tax authorities as a non-dom. And at Sky, political editor Faisal Islam reported that “Baltic Exchange boss Jeremy Penn slams Labour non-dom plans” without declaring that his owner, Rupert Murdoch, does not pay UK tax and that Penn acts for super-rich shipping owners.

Jolyon Maugham QC, who has advised Labour and the Tories on tax reform, tells the Eye that any reader silly enough to believe the Tory press and tax avoidance industry should look at what they said in 2008, when Labour introduced the first levies on non-doms.

Back then the Mail then said the central London property market would crash as non-doms sold up and moved to Switzerland. In fact, between Labour introducing the levy and 2014, prime central London property prices rose 41 percent. At the end of 2014, Knightsbridge estate agent W.A. Ellis said 54 percent of sales were to overseas buyers.

The Mail was equally certain the City would suffer. On 8 February 2008 it cried that the levy “risks the City’s future”. The British Banking Association warned of “a devastating blow”. The Telegraph of 12 February 2008 said that “the country’s wealthiest individuals are being bombarded with leaflets and letters explaining how easy it would be to relocate to Switzerland, Monaco and a host of other countries”. Not to be outdone, Mike Warburton, senior tax partner at accountants Grant Thornton, said the levy was the “final straw”.

If a word of this had been true, there would be no non-doms left for Milband to tax. As it is, there are 115,000 because, as Maugham says, London remains a “very nice place to live, if you’re wealthy. And that won’t change.” Or as the Financial Times put it: “The many advantages of London as a financial centre do not dissolve simply because of a change in a hitherto generous tax treatment of resident non-domiciles.”

The pink ‘un has only recently realised the iniquity of the non-dom rule, with an editorial last month calling for its abolition. Editor Lionel Barber modestly claims some credit for Miliband’s stance. But as editor for almost a decade, why was he so late to the party? Surely not because, until 2013, FT owner Pearson was run by US-born Dame Marjorie Scardino, who would certainly have qualified for non-dom status and whose London flat, the Eye revealed, was owned via an offshore company?

The Daily Mail’s owner, Lord Rothermere, is a particularly flagrant tax dodger in this regarded. The current Rothermere inherited the status from his father, who really was not resident in the UK. He lived in Paris. But Rothermere junior appears very much to have made Britain his permanent or at least primary residence. He has a parking space in London, and the Eye reported a few years ago he was extensively renovating his stately home in the West Country.

The non-dom tax status, offshore banking and other ways used by the corporate and super rich to avoid tax are part of the reason for the increasing impoverishment of everyone else. They aren’t paying their fair share of the tax burden, but receiving massive tax handouts instead. Thus the NHS and other important services are deprived of money. The tax burden is then passed onto ordinary, working people. This reduction in taxes for the rich used to be justified under Thatcher with the argument that the money the rich saved would somehow trickle down to the rest of us. This hasn’t worked. It doesn’t encourage the rich to open any more businesses or employ more people. The money just sits in their accounts earning more interest.

It also doesn’t the rich closing businesses and laying people off either. This was shown a year or so ago in America, when one of the corporate recipients of the Republicans’ tax cuts closed a branch or a factory, laying hundreds of workers off.

And the purchase of London property by foreigners is also a further cause of poverty. Ordinary people in the Smoke can’t afford to buy homes as rich foreigners – not asylum seekers or migrants – push property prices up far out of their reach. Some of these homes are simply left empty as an investment in what is known as ‘land banking’. This has a knock-on effect for the rest of the UK. Here in Bristol property prices have also risen to extremely highly levels through Londoners forced out of the capital relocating to the city. And in turn, some Bristolians are looking for cheaper homes elsewhere in places like Wales.

London still is a ‘very nice place to live, if you’re wealthy’, but the tax cuts which make Britain so comfortable for the global rich are causing poverty, misery and homelessness for everyone else.

And this is applauded and cheered by hypocritical press magnates and editors.

New BBC Series Next Week on Universal Credit

January 28, 2020

The BBC is screening a new documentary series next week on Universal Credit. Titled ‘Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State’, the first installment is on BBC 2, on Tuesday 4th February at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

In-depth look at the Department of Work and Pensions, Jobcentres and claimants, during the implementation of the biggest change to the benefits system in a generation. This edition focuses of Peckham Jobcentre in south London. Rachel left a 27-year caareer in the NHS to care for her elderly parents. She’s been struggling to pay her rent and bills while paying back an advance she took out while waiting for her first Universal Credit payment. Jobcentre staff member Karen works tirelessly to support claimants but is frustrated that she has to supplement her low earnings with a second job. (p. 86).

An additional piece about the show by David Butcher a few pages earlier, on page 84, also says

There’s a key scene in this first episode of a series about benefits, where the civil servant in charge of Universal Credit, Neil Couling, shows us a whiteboard in the Department for Work and Pensions called the “motherboard”. Among the grids and numbers is a piece of paper stuck on that says, “Pay claimants the right amount of money and on time”. It seems a modest aim but, as Couling tells us, “It has defeated the benefits system for the last 35 years.”

The series helps us understand why. Its strength is that we meet not just those at the top of the benefits bureaucracy but those at the bottom – officials at a Jobcentre in Peckham, south London, known as “work coaches”, and their claimants or “customers”. In their sometimes testy encounters we see how Jobcentres have become a one-stop shop, helping claimants with food bank vouchers, housing and childcare. As unemployed labourer Declan says, unhappily, “It’s like they’ve got a hold of your life.”

I think this programme has been expected. If I recall correctly, there has been some discussion whether it would accurately reflect conditions in the DWP and the misery and despair Universal Credit has inflicted on claimaints. There were fears that it would follow the path set by a similar documentary a few years ago. This was also made with the help of the DWP, but presented a very sanitised view of the Department as government-sanctioned propaganda.

It’s to be hopedthat this will be different from the previous series, and from the ‘poverty porn’ produced by Mentorn Television like ‘Benefits Street’. But considering the massive bias on the BBC news desk against the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, and its general bias towards supporting austerity and the Conservatives, that may be too much to expect.