Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Corbyn’

Tweezer Wins ‘No Confidence’ Vote by VERY Narrow Margin

January 16, 2019

Okay, I just heard a few minutes ago that Tweezer has managed to survive the vote of ‘No Confidence’ proposed by Jeremy Corbyn. I thought she would, as the Tories very much stick together when they’re under attack. Although the majority of them voted against May over her wretched Brexit deal, some of her opponents, like, I believe, Jacob Rees-Mogg, had said they had confidence in her. I think this is very much a matter of convenience, because those MPs that still continue to back her do so because they realize that if she goes, the party will descend into violent factional squabbling and will collapse.

What I didn’t expect was how extremely narrow her victory was. I’ve been told the results were 325 for Tweezer to 306 against. This is in no way a massive endorsement of her from her party. It shows instead that she is incredibly vulnerable with a very tenuous grip on power. And her position is going to become even more precarious in the coming weeks as we advance towards Brexit. The insecurity most Brits feel about the preparations to leave will increase, and Tweezer has herself admitted that she may try to push back Article 50. The Europeans regard her as a clown, and her massive ineptitude also reflects on us as a nation. She’s made such a mess of the negotiations that further preparations and negotiations with Europe will undoubtedly be more difficult.

Mike put up a piece today reporting that May has drawn parliament into a war of attrition through her obstinate refusal to resign. Jeremy Corbyn has responded to her by saying that he’ll keep demanding votes of ‘No Confidence’ every time the government loses a motion. This might have the result of forcing some Conservatives to vote for government policies they would otherwise vote against in order to forestall further such votes, and it might cheapen the importance of such calls slightly by making them somewhat routine. But I think it’s the only way to go. I can remember reading a comment from a Tory politician back in the 1990s or so, who was surprised that the Labour opposition of the time hadn’t succeeded in overturning them simply through doggedly attacking them every time they could. He said that when the Tories attacked a Labour government, they ‘hunted in packs’. He was surprised that Labour hadn’t, thus allowing Major’s administration to cling to power. Labour now has to adopt this approach, to attack Tweezer and her government at every opportunity, to grind them down to such an extent that they are too exhausted to hold on to power.

This is a critically wounded government. For the good of the British people, the NHS and what survives of the welfare state, Corbyn and Labour have to continue hounding them into that crucial ‘No Confidence’ vote, which hopefully will force her from office.

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Woohoo! Tweezer Loses the Brexit vote Massively!

January 15, 2019

Yaay! I just caught an ITV newsflash a few minutes ago, at a quarter to 8 pm, that Tweezer has just spectacularly lost the meaningful Brexit vote. She lost by 230 votes, which apparently is the biggest margin a Prime Minister has lost by. Ever. They were waiting for her to say something, as well as wondering if Jeremy Corbyn will now go on to demand a ‘No Confidence’ vote in the PM.

Well, that’s it. She lost, just as we all knew she would. The inevitable happened, after all her running around trying to get the European to go back and give her a better deal, then putting the vote back from the end of last year, and finally ringing the trade unions and even one of Corbyn’s closest advisors and allies to get them to back her. And all the while claiming that this wasn’t an act of desperation. No, of course it wasn’t.

Her Brexit deal is an absolute failure, and her government responsible for inflicting grinding hardship, poverty and starvation on millions of working people, in one form or another. All for the benefit of millionaire industrialists and financial speculators. It’s time she was dumped, the Tories kicked out, and No. 10 taken up instead by Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour party determined to change this country for the better.

Tony Benn on ‘Spycatcher’ and the Wilson Smears

January 8, 2019

Tony Benn was a passionate defender of civil liberties and an advocate of expanding democracy further against the attempts of the establishment to limit it. He was therefore a critic of Britain’s intelligence agencies and their repeated attempts to destabilise and undermine the left. The publication of Peter Wright’s Spycatcher in the ’80s caused massive controversy, because of its description of the activities by them. Thatcher invoked the Official Secrets Act to suppress its publication in Britain, but it was freely available elsewhere in the world. In his 1988 book, Fighting Back, Benn discusses the book and its revelations about just what the CIA and MI5 were up to, including their smears against the former Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson.

Among the pieces Benn quotes and discusses was Wright’s statement that MI5 bugged and burgled their way across London on behalf of the state, while civil servants looked the other way;

that during the Suez crisis, MI6 planned to assassinate Nasser using nerve gas;

that James Angleton, the head of the CIA, wanted to expand their London station and infiltrate and absorb MI5 completely;

that the intelligence agencies had always taken information from peoples’ national insurance files, and were setting up a computer link to do the same;

and that Angleton believed that Wilson was a Soviet agent, based on an anonymous Soviet source. (Benn, Fighting Back, pp. 237-8).

He then goes on to quote Wright on how MI5 was plotting to smear Wilson from the end of the Heath government. Wright wrote

As events moved to their political climax in early 1974, with the election of the minority Labour Government, MI5 was sitting on information, which, if leaked, would undoubtedly have caused a political scandal of incalculable consequences. The news that the Prime Minister himself was being investigated would at the least have led to his resignation. The point was not lost on some MI5 officers.

Wright continued on page 369 of his wretched book

The plan was simple. In the run-up to the election which, given the level of instability in Parliament, must be due within a matter of months, MI5 would arrange for selective details of the intelligence about leading Labour Party figures, but especially Wilson, to be leaked to sympathetic pressmen. Using our contacts in the press and among union officials, word of the material contained in MI5 files, and the fact that Wilson was considered a security risk would be passed around. Soundings had already been taken, and up to thirty officers had given their approval to the scheme. Facsimile copies of some files were to be made and distributed to overseas newspapers, and the matter was to be raised in Parliament for maximum effect. It was a carbon copy of the Zinoviev letter, which had done so much to destroy the first Ramsay MacDonald Government in 1928. [sic] ‘We’ll have him out’ said one of them. ‘this time we’ll have him out.’ Shortly afterwards Wilson resigned. As we always used to say in the office ‘Politicians may come and go, but the security service goes on forever. (Both quotations in Benn, p. 238).

Benn then went on to say about these revelations that

If any of them are true MI5 officers were incited to break the law, have broken the law, did attempt, with CIA help, to destroy an elected government, and any responsible Prime Minister should have instructed the police to investigate, with a view to prosecution, and the Courts should have convicted and sentenced those found guilty. The charge which the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, the Law Officers, the Police, have to face is that they have all betrayed their public trust, and the judges who have upheld them are in clear breach of the Bill of Rights of 1689. For if ministers can arbitrarily suspend the law, and claim that issues of confidentiality, or national security, justify a ban on publication; and if the judges issue an injunction, there could be no limit to the suppression of any information which might embarrass any government. (Benn, p. 239).

The Wilson smears have again become relevant after the recent revelations from the Anonymous hacking group, which the government admitted following a question by Labour minister Chris Williamson, that the Tory government was funding a private company, the Institute for Statecraft, to publish anti-Putin propaganda on the internet as part of its programme, the Integrity Initiative. This propaganda included smearing European and American politicians and officials, who were held to be to close to Putin. And so they smeared Jeremy Corbyn, just as the press a little while ago also tried smearing him as a Czech spy. Investigation has shown that the Institute for Statecraft and the Integrity Initiative uses staff from MI5 and the army’s internet counterintelligence units, to the point where journalists investigating it have described it as a British intelligence cut-out.

It is over forty years since Harold Wilson left office, but the British intelligence services are back up to their old tricks of smearing Labour leaders as Russian agents. Benn wanted legislation put in place to make the British secret state fully accountable to parliament. The British conspiracy magazine, Lobster, has making the same argument since its foundation in the 1980s.

Benn and Lobster are right. Our intelligence agencies are out of control, and a danger to democracy.

John Quiggin on the Absolute Failure of Trickle-Down Economics

January 8, 2019

John Quiggin is an economics professor at the university of Queensland Down Under. His 2010 book, Zombie Economics, is a very thorough demolition of the economic theories that have formed the current dogma since the election of Thatcher and Reagan in 1979 and 1980.

One of the theories he refutes is ‘trickle-down’ economics. This is theory that if you act to give more wealth to the rich through tax cuts, deregulation and privatization, this wealth will trickle down to benefit those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. It was one of the central planks of Thatcherism. And even in the 1980s, it’s effectiveness was highly dubious. I remember watching a documentary about it on the Beeb, which illustrated the theory with a pyramid of champagne glasses. When the glasses at the top of the pyramid were filled to overflowing, the champagne flowed down to the glasses lower down. So, Thatcher and her cronies claimed, their programme of free market economics would benefit everyone in society by enriching those at the top, from whom it would trickle down to the rest of us. If I remember correctly, the programme itself argued this wasn’t happening. And it hasn’t since. on pages 155 to 157 Quggin shows how the policy has not worked in America, and in fact the poor are massively poorer off. He writes

The experience of the United States during the decades of market liberalism, from the 1970s until the Global Financial Crisis, gives little support for the trickle-down view. The gross domestic product of the United States grew solidly in this period, if not as rapidly as during the Keynesian postwar boom. More relevantly to the trickle-down hypothesis , the incomes and wealth of the richest Americans grew spectacularly. Incomes at the fifth percentile of the income distribution doubled and those for the top 0.1 per cent quadrupled.

By contrast, the gains to households in the middle of the income distribution have been much more modest. As shown in figure 4.2, real median household income rose from forty-five thousand dollars to just over fifty thousand dollars between 1973 (the last year of the long postwar expansion) and 2008. The annual rate of increase was 0.4 per cent.

For those at the bottom of the income distribution, there have been no gains at all. Real incomes for the lower half of the distribution have stagnated. The same picture emerges if we look at wages. Median real earning for full-time year-round male workers have not grown since 1974. For males with high school education or less, real wages have actually declined. According to estimates made by the Economic Policy Institute, the average annual earnings of twenty-five to twenty-nine-year-old high school graduates, expressed in 2005 values, fell from #30,900 in 1970 to $25,90 in 2000, and have stagnated since then.

Since 2000, median household incomes have actually fallen, the first time in modern history that such a decline has taken place over a full business cycle. One result can be seen by looking at the proportion of households living below the poverty line. The poverty rate declined steadily during the postwar Keynsian era. It has remained essentially static since 1970, falling in booms, but rising again in recessions.

Unlike most developed countries, the United States has a poverty line fixed in terms of absolute consumption levels and based on an assessment of a poverty-line food budget undertaken in 1963. The proportion of Americans below this fixed poverty line fell from 25 per cent in the late 1950s to 11 percent in 1974. Since then it has fluctuated, reaching 13.2 percent in 2008, a level that is certain to rise further as a result of the financial crisis and recession now taking place. Since the poverty line has remained unchanged, this means that the real incomes accruing to the poorest ten percent of Americans have fallen over the last thirty years.

These outcomes are reflected in measures of the numbers of Americans who lack access to the basics of life: food, shelter, and adequate medical care.

In 2008, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics quoted by the Food Research Action Center, 49.1 million Americans live in households classified as “food insecure”, meaning that they lacked access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources. Slightly more than 17 million people (17.3 million) lived in households that were considered to have “very low food security”, which means that one or more people in the household were hungry over the course of the year because of the inability to afford enough food. This number had doubled since 2000 and has almost certainly increased further as a result of the recession.

The number of people without health insurance rose steadily over the period of market liberalism, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the population, reaching a peak of 46 million, or 15 percent of the population. Among the insured, an increasing proportion was reliant on government programs. The traditional model of employment-based private health insurance, which was developed as part of the New Deal, and covered most of the population during the Keynesian era, was eroded to the point of collapse.

Homelessness is almost entirely a phenomenon of the era of market liberalism. During the decade of full employment, homelessness was confined to a tiny population of transients, mostly older males with mental health and substance abuse problems. By contrast, in 2007, 1.6 million people spent time in homeless shelters, and about 40 percent of the homeless population were families with children.

The experience of the United States in the era of market liberalism was as thorough a refutation of the trickle-down hypothesis as can reasonably be imagined. The well off have become better off, and the rich have become super-rich. Despite impressive technological progress, those in the middle of the income distributions struggled to stay in place, and those at the bottom became worse-off in crucial respects.

(My emphasis).

Bernie Sanders in his book described just how severe the crisis in private American medical care was. It almost collapsed completely in certain states because a very large number of patients are simply unable to afford medical treatment.

And the same situation prevails here in Britain, with increasing poverty here in Britain. Millions of households now live below the poverty line, a quarter of million people need food banks to keep body and soul together, including working people with families. As Mike pointed out in a piece last week, parents are now starving themselves in order to fee their children.

The NHS is also in crisis, though for different but related reasons to those in the US. It’s in crisis because of massive funding cuts by the Tories over the last decade, and the determination of both Tory and New Labour administrations to privatise it by stealth. The introduction of private enterprise into the NHS actually raises costs, not diminishes them. It’s for the simple reason that private firms have to make a profit to pass on to their shareholders. Plus private firms also have bureaucracies of their own, which in some instances can take up 44 per cent of the firm’s income.

And added to this there is a massive increase in homelessness. But don’t worry! Yesterday, the I newspaper published a piece from the Economist telling millennials to cheer up, because in the future they’ll be able to afford their own home. Which sounds very much like simple propaganda for the current economic orthodoxy, rather than a realistic, credible prediction.

Free market capitalism has failed, despite what the press and media is trying to tell us. The Conservatives responsible for its adoption should be thrown out of government, and the Blairites who introduced it into Labour should be forced out of the positions of power they seek to monopolise. If not expelled altogether as Thatcherite entryists.

We need a genuine, socialist Labour government to clean this mess up. A government which must be led by Jeremy Corbyn.

‘I’ Newspaper Publishing Economist Articles to Promote Economic Orthodoxy?

January 6, 2019

The I proudly announced yesterday, 5th January 1919, that it had now made an agreement with the Economist to print articles from that magazine. Now the Economist has a reputation for excellent journalism, and for clearly explaining complex issues for a lay readership. But it is, unsurprisingly as a business magazine, firmly behind the current economic orthodoxy. Which is that capitalism is great, and state intervention and the unions are to be strongly resisted.

The I started out as a digest version of the Independent, which adopted its name in order to show that it was independent of party political bias. The I undercut its parent paper, which has now, I believe, gone on the internet. As for the I itself, while it is supposedly free of overall political bias, it has shown itself to be consistently and fiercely biased against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour party. If followed the rest of the press, for example, in promoting the anti-Semitism smears against the Labour leader and his supporters.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that capitalism in the west is now in serious trouble. In Britain a quarter of a million people now have to rely on food banks to fend off starvation, a sizable proportion of whom are actually working. Tens of thousands of people are homeless, and the present generation of young people in Britain and America are now looking at a future in which they will never be able to afford to buy their own home. Even rented property may be out of their reach. Recent polls show that 55 per cent of American young people now have no faith in capitalism.

And in Britain this is all set to get worse, much worse, with Brexit. Which is why Tweezer has set up a department to deal with food shortages, and has prepared to put 3,500 squaddies on Britain’s streets in the event that Britain crashes out without a deal with the EU.

This must worry the ruling elite, which worked hard throughout the Cold War to stop the peoples of the world taking up Communism and has consistently attacked, destabilized and overthrown liberal and left-wing governments and political leaders around the world. This has not prevented the business papers in the past recognizing that there were profound problems with current economic policy. In the 1990s, for example, the Financial Times carried a number of articles demonstrating very clearly that poverty was increasing, and that the majority of the new poor in America and elsewhere were actually working, not unemployed. This was when the newspaper supported the Lib Dems, though that didn’t stop one of its columnists telling his readers that he supported workfare. According to Private Eye the FT is, like the rest of the lamestream press, losing readers. It has tried to reverse this by switching its support to the Tories, but this hasn’t stopped its readers from leaving it.

Looking at this arrangement between the I and the Economist, it seems that these journals are also in trouble. The I‘s management seems to hope that this arrangement will encourage some of the Economist’s readers will also start reading the paper, while it can be inferred that the Economist’s management probably hope that some the I’s will start looking at theirs.

Now this doesn’t mean that the I will start having a strong political bias towards one party, although it has always attacked Corbyn and his supporters in Labour. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t have a political bias at all. It does. Like the Groaniad, it is biased towards the current worn-out Thatcherite political and economic consensus. Hence both magazines’ attacks on Corbyn because he and his supporters have rejected it and are determined to overturn it.

It seems to me very strongly that the I has therefore made this arrangement with the Economist, not just to boost sales, but also to try to reinforce and promote the popular acceptance of Thatcherite economic orthodoxy, an orthodoxy that is accepted uncritically by the Blairites and the Lib Dems outside the Conservative party, but which is rejected by the Corbynites. An economic orthodoxy that is increasingly shown to be wrong, and catastrophically wrong, to an increasingly large number of this country’s citizens.

The I and its owners, like the press, are terrified of this, as is the rest of the press. Hence the decision to try and bolster Thatcherite capitalism through the republication of Economist articles, even when claiming still to be politically independent. But it’s only independent of particular parties. Ideologically, it’s still Thatcherite.

Tony Benn on Capitalism’s Failure and Its Use as System of Class Control

January 6, 2019

I put up a long piece the other day about two books I’d bought by Tony Benn, one of which was his Arguments for Socialism, edited by Chris Mullin (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1979). Benn is rightly revered as one of the great champions of socialism, democracy and working people of the late 20th and early 21st century. Reading the two books I ordered has been fascinating, because of how so much of them remain acutely relevant to what is going on now, in the last years of the second decade of the 21st century. It struck me very hard that you could open his books at random, and find a passage that would still be both highly enlightening and important.

One such passage is in the section of his book, Arguments for Socialism in the chapter dealing with the inheritance of the Labour party, where he deals with Clause IV. This was the section of the Labour party’s constitution which committed it to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. This was removed in the 1990s by Tony Blair in his desire to remodel Labour as a capitalist, Thatcherite party. Benn however fully supported nationalization and wished to see it expanded beyond the public utilities and the coal and steel industries nationalized by the Attlee and later governments. This was to be part of a genuine socialist programme to benefit and empower working people. He also argued that this was necessary because capitalism had not produced the benefits claimed by its early theorists, and was simply maintained because it was a useful instrument of class control by the capitalists themselves, particularly the financial section. Benn wrote

The phrase ‘common ownership’ is cast widely enough to embrace all forms of enterprise, including nationalized industries, municipal and co-operative enterprises, which it is envisaged should provide the basis for the control and operation of manufacturing, distribution and the banks and insurance companies.

In practice, Labour programmes and manifestos over the years have focused primarily on the great monopolies of financial, economic and industrial power which have grown out of the theoretical operation of a free market economy. For the ideas of laissez-faire and free enterprise propounded by Adam Smith and carried forward by the Manchester School of Liberal Economists until they reappeared under the new guise of monetarism, have never achieved what was claimed for them.

Today, capitalist monopolies in Britain and throughout the world have long since ‘repealed the laws of supply and demand’ and have become centres of political power concerned principally with safeguarding the financial investors who have lost the benefits of shareholder democracy and the great self-perpetuating hierarchy of managers who run them. For this purpose they control the media, engage in direct propaganda and on occasions have been found guilty of corrupt practices on a massive scale or have intervened directly to support governments that will allow them to continue their exploitation of men and materials for their own benefit. (Pp. 41-2).

This has been thoroughly proved by the last four decades of Thatcherism and Reaganomics. The shareholder democracy Thatcher tried to create through the privatisations of the ’80s and ’90s is a failure. The shares have passed out of the hands of the working class investors, who bought them, and into those of the traditional capitalist middle class. Shareholder democracy within companies has also been shown to be extremely flawed. A number of companies have spectacularly gone bankrupt because of serious mismanagement. The directors put in place to safeguard the interests of shareholders either ignored or were participants in the dodgy schemes of the managers they were supposed to supervise. Furthermore, in many companies while the numbers of workers have been cut and conditions for the remaining staff has deteriorated with lower wages, the removal of workers’ rights and zero hours contracts, management pay has skyrocketed.

And some economists are now turning against the current economic consensus. Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism has shown that laissez-faire capitalism doesn’t create prosperity, economic growth and jobs. He still supports capitalism, but demonstrates that what genuinely does work to benefit countries and the majority of their people economically is state intervention. He shows the benefits of nationalization, workers’ participation in management and protectionism. The American economist, John Quiggin, has also attacked contemporary laissez-faire Thatcherite, Reaganite capitalism, arguing very clearly that it is so wrong it’s intellectually dead, but still justified and promoted by the business elites it serves. He calls it in the title of his book on it, Zombie Economics, which has the subtitle How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us.

Thatcher’s much vaunted monetarism was effectively discarded even when she was in power. A friend of mine told me at College that Thatcher had quietly abandoned it to try to stimulate the economy instead through the old Keynsian methods of public works. And I can still remember the controversy that erupted in the early ’90s when Milton Friedman announced that monetarism was a failure. The Heil devoted a double-page article to the issue, one page arguing for it, the other against.

Tony Benn was right. Monetarism and the laissez-faire capitalism of Thatcher and Reagan was simply a means to entrench and give more power to the financial class. State intervention, nationalization and proper trade union representation were the way to protect the interests of working people. It’s long past time the zombie economics of the Blairites, Lib Dems and Tories was finally consigned to the grave, and a proper socialist government under Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders elected in Britain and America instead.

Shirley Williams on the Industrial Democracy

January 5, 2019

Before she left with other members of the Labour right to form the SDP, it seems that Shirley Williams did have some genuinely interesting views on socialist issues some would associated more with the Labour left. Like industrial democracy.

The ’70s were the decade of the Bullock Report, which recommended putting workers on the management boards of Britain’s major industries, and this was still an issue a couple of years later. In her 1981 book, Politics Is For People, Williams discusses some of the problems of industrial democracy. She acknowledges that the trade unions were divided on the issue and management positively feared it. She also recognized that there were problems about how it could be achieved, given the complexities of the representation of the different trade unions in British workplaces on management boards. But she supported its introduction in Britain’s businesses, and suggested that it would be made easier through the information and computer technology that was then also appearing. She wrote

Through the need for participation in the introduction of new technologies, management and unions are having to establish consultative machinery where none exists. Those firms who want to move ahead quickly will achieve trade union cooperation if they offer participation in exchange; otherwise they will face resistance and obstruction. The new technologies offer an opportunity to widen industrial democracy at the plant and office level, where it matters most. Whether joint consultation at that level leads on to participation in the boardroom is a matter that can be left to each company and its unions to decide.

More difficult is the question of how the workforce in each firm should be represented. In the Cabinet committee which drew up the 1979 White Paper on industrial democracy, there were differing views on whether workers should elect their representatives to plant and company committees or whether they should be nominated by the trade unions (the ‘single channel’). The issue is far from simple. In Sweden and the Federal Republic of Germany most firms have only one trade union,, so there is no need to secure agreement among them before candidates for election can be put forward. In Britain, as many as twenty unions may represent the employees of large firms, and four or five unions in a firm are commonplace. In these circumstances, a straightforward election would be likely to lead all the representatives coming from the biggest unions, the rest being unrepresented.

But the nomination of a single list by agreement between the unions in a plant or firm offends the principle of democratic choice. The workers may object to one or more of the people selected to represent them, yet they would have no power to reject him or her other than by the rejecting the whole slate and jeopardizing participation itself. One way out of this dilemma would be for the unions in a multi-union plant to agree on constituencies representing each union on a weighted basis, with an election based on a secret ballot between candidates who were members of the appropriate union, some of whom might carry official endorsement.

Industrial democracy has not attracted consistent support from most trade unions, and the trade unions themselves are profoundly divided on the form it should take, many preferring a consultative structure to one statutory participation on the lines proposed in the Bullock Report. If the unions are divided, however, much of management feels threatened by the idea of industrial democracy. So for years there has been a stalemate on the subject, and government intervenes at their peril. Yet, if only beca8use there has to be effective consultation on technological change, the position cannot be left where it is. Indeed, in my view industrial democracy could usher in much better relations in industry, greater cooperation in improving the productivity of all factors of production and a better understanding of the need for voluntary incomes and prices policies to combat inflation. Many of Britain’s economic problems are rooted in institutional rigidities or, as in this case, institution conservatism. This one reform could bring in its wake a long-delayed rejuvenation. We should not be daunted by the difficulties, but rather invigorated by the possibilities.

Shirley Williams, Politics Is For People (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1981) 139-40.

Some of the issues Williams talks about here are very dated. Inflation is no longer the critical issue it was in the ’70s. It’s now very low, and this has caused problems in its turn. Profits and management pay have risen immensely, but this is not reflected in the salaries of ordinary workers. Quite the opposite. Their pay is still below inflation, and the result is that many of the quarter of a million people using food banks are actually in work. Mike has also today posted up a piece about how parents are starving themselves in the week because there isn’t enough to feed both them and their children on their wages. And this is not a recent development. Mike has published a number of articles about this over the past few years since the Tories took power under Cameron.

And the new technology to which Williams looked forward also hasn’t been an entirely liberating force. Some businesses instead are using to restrict and spy on their workers. Private Eye in their ‘Street of Shame’ column printed a story about how the weirdo Barclay Twins, who own the Torygraph, tried to fit the motion detectors used in call centres to monitor the movements of staff there to check to see if there hacks were leaving the desks. Other firms are fitting devices to their workers ankles to monitor their movements. And the spectre of Big Brother-style surveillance loomed even larger a month or so ago, when the I reported that a Swedish firm had developed an implantable chip that could be inserted into a firm’s staff.

British workers also don’t have the strong unions they enjoyed in the 1970s, which have left British workers vulnerable to low pay, the removal of employment rights and job insecurity.

However, Williams is right in that industrial democracy offers a genuine opportunity to empower working people, and benefit industry through proper cooperation between workers and management. It’s proper implementation won’t come from Williams and her fellows, who are now part of the Lib Dems, and who seem to have thoroughly forgotten it. It will only from Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.

Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space: Land of Dopes and Tories

January 5, 2019

Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space were a local band in Devon. Downes was into cryptozoology, the study of unknown animals, and, with others, ran the Centre for Fortean Zoology. Back in the 1990s they published a small magazine, Animals and Men, which covered developments in zoology ranging from recent discoveries in paleontology and dinosaurs, the new species then being discovered in South East Asia, and creatures like the Yeti and other ape creatures and the Loch Ness monster, whose existence is very definitely not accepted by mainstream scientists. His band was also unsurprisingly steeped in Fortean high weirdness, hence its bizarre name. One of the songs on their album was about the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, a mysterious figure who stalked American suburbia around the 1940s. The Mad Gasser got his name because he was believed to be responsible for knocking people unconscious with some kind of anaesthetic gas. Despite the panic he caused and an intense police search, no-one was ever caught and the Mad Gasser is thus one of those mysterious figures of urban folklore like Spring-Heeled Jack in Britain.

Downes’ lyrics often included explicit social and political comments. ‘God Bless Amerikkka/Petsurfing’ contained references to the Beach Boys as well as bitter comments on Reagan’s America and the Vietnam War. It’s lyrics ran

The Beach boys in the Whitehouse took the president out dancing
took in a drive-in movie threw a frisbee with Charles Manson.
The American dream was sweet sixteen and no-one gave a damn
and thousands of asshole students were praying for their very own Vietnam.

“Give me Liberty or Give me Death” give me concepts I can see
“Give me Librium or Give me Meths” it’s all the same to me,
God Bless America!
(I don’t mean to annoy ya as you drown in Paranoia got no reason to destroy ya in the land of the brave).
God Bless America!
(You’ve got to catch that one last wave!)

The western world just genuflects and licks its paltry leavings
so three stupid generations have got something to believe in
now style over content is the way they measure worth,
and a grinning fool has just become the most powerful man on earth.

The cretin culture faced the wall and found it couldn’t win against it
the peasants in the jungle or the troops of Ho Chi Minh,
the profit motive is a joke when there isn’t any money,
there’s no point to a joke like that, it really isn’t funny.

It also struck me that his track ‘The Stranger (L’Etranger)’ is also partly a comment on Thatcher and the British secret state, while the title is a reference to Camus’ existentialist classic.

She’s got half a mind to kill you if you don’t agree with her programme
she’s got half a mind to stop you in your tracks.
She’s got a 10% dead army, she’s got heroes ten a penny,
she’s got men she’d pay to stab you in the back.

There’s a new ideal on the night-time breeze,
(won’t you wait a while till midnight?)
There’s a new man coming through the trees,
(won’t you watch him dance by lamplight?)

In the darkness at the edge of town there’s a stranger with a knife,
and he swears he’s going to stop her with his life.
She knows he won’t forgive her, (and that he never wanted to live there),
but she still thinks he loves her like his wife.

In her mind she’s built a castle and peopled it with fear,
if you look too hard you know that it will all disappear,
she’s so lonely in her madness, it’s so lonely at the top,
If you got that far it’s really hard to stop.

The most explicitly anti-Tory lyrics in the album are in Part Two of his song, ‘English Heritage’. The song was about the government’s privatization of Stonehenge to English Heritage, who then surrounded it with a wire fence, put up a souvenir shop and charged an entry fee. The second part of the song was an explicit attack on Tory patriotism, ‘Land of Dopes and Tories’, and was an obviously parody of Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. It ran

Land of Dopes and Tories, gameshows and TV,
the land our fathers fought for don’t seem the same to me.
Something’s subtly different, something must have changed,
‘cos England’s now just a refuge for the terminally deranged.
Land of Dopes and Tories, land of the living dead,
land where the hope and glory only lives on in my head,
land of idiot violence where innocent blood is shed,
land where only the assholes heard what Mosley said.
Land of Dopes and Tories I don’t see the point,
Anarchy and Freedom is everything I want.
Anarchy and Freedom is everything I want.

The sleeve notes explain that the line about Mosley refers to his comment that whoever won the Second World War, Britain would be ruined as a world power.

Time and the world have moved on since the album came out, and the ’90s ended nearly two decades ago. Reagan is gone, and we had another grinning fool enter the White House in the shape of George ‘Dubya’ Bush. He’s now been succeeded in his turn by another maniac, Trump, who doesn’t grin but glowers and struts like Mussolini. Over here, Maggie also passed from power to be succeeded by John Major, the grey man who handed Stonehenge and other ancient sites to English Heritage, and who was succeeded in his turn by Blair and his sickly grin. Blair has also left government, and instead we’re run by Tweezer. Who would like us all to believe that she’s Maggie Mark 2. And she does have men ready to kill people. Not just the staff at the DWP, who are determined to throw people off benefits to starve and die at the slightest excuse – she’s also put legislation in place to put 3,500 troopers on the streets in case of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. And British television and popular culture in the shape of the right-wing press is doing its best to distract people from how dire and desperate the situation is for very many people, not least by smearing and misrepresenting Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. And like Maggie Thatcher, Tweezer’s also using the secret state to smear and lie on her behalf.

Maggie, Reagan and their era are gone, but Tory and Republican tactics and policies are carrying on. It’s time they were utterly discarded, and genuinely left-wing, progressive governments voted in under Jeremy Corbyn here in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the US.

Hitler, the Conservatives and the Rule of Elites

January 1, 2019

One of the defining features of Fascism along with racism, extreme nationalism and militarism is elitism. Democracy is violently rejected in favour of the rule of elites, who are alone are believed capable of ruling. Hitler stated this very clearly in Mein Kampf. He wrote

We must bear in mind that if a certain sum of high energy and efficiency has been extracted from a nation and appears to be united in one single aim and has been finally aggregated out of the inertia of the masses, this small percentage, ipso facto, rises to become master of the rest. The world’s history is made by minorities, given that they have incorporated in them the greater part of the nation’s will power and determination.

Therefore, that which appears to many to be a disadvantage is in reality the necessary condition of our victory. It is in the greatness and difficulty of our task that the probability lies that only the best fighters will join us in the fight. The pledge of success lies in choice of the very best.

Adolf Hitler, My Struggle (London: Paternoster Row 1933) 157.

Hitler and the Nazis firmly believed that businessmen formed part of this ruling elite, because they had demonstrated their biological fitness through their success as businessmen. It was an attitude drawn from Social Darwinism, which promoted the ‘survival of the economic fittest’, a view that extended far beyond the Nazi party.

The Conservatives in Britain and the Republicans in America similarly believe, as I have blogged about several times previously, that business leaders are an elite particularly fitted for government. Both parties have promoted the interests of business and passed legislation further benefiting and enriching the leaders of big business, at the expense of ordinary working people, who have been reduced to utter poverty. There have been comments by Republican and Libertarian spokespeople, who have made these attitudes very clear. Barack Obama, for example, was derided because he was a community organizer Chicago rather than a businessman. Theresa May leads a cabinet of millionaires, which farcically pretend not to be part of ‘the elite’. David Cameron and Boris Johnson are old Etonian toffs, while Jacob Rees-Mogg is a similarly privately educated aristo. When the abolition of the House of Lords in favour of an elected upper house was mooted earlier this century, it was attacked by the Tories and the right-wing press. One of the arguments used was that the hereditary peerage had the right to sit in parliament because they possessed the necessary skills through their breeding and upbringing.

Coupled to this elitism and snobbery is a complete contempt for ordinary people. Mike and the other left-wing bloggers have posted many times some of the sneering comments the Tories have made about the poor and homeless. At its grassroots, the Tory party is dying partly because of this attitude. People aren’t joining it, and members of the constituency party have complained about their views being ignored and neglected in favour of rich donors.

It is about time the Tories and Republicans were ousted, and the elitism and Social Darwinist celebration of the rich and powerful ended at last. We need a Corbyn government here in Britain which really does work ‘for the many, not for the few’.

Poverty and the Insensitivity of the Queen’s Speech

December 30, 2018

A few days ago Mike put up an article reporting the backlash against the monarchy that had occurred as a result of the Queen’s speech. I never saw it as I find the speech horrendously boring, but I gather that Her Maj had sat in a wonderful gilded room, complete with a priceless gold Erard piano, and urged us all to be tolerant of each other at this time. People were naturally more than a bit annoyed to hear someone, surrounded with the kind of wealth most people can only dream about, telling the rest of the country in effect that they had better respect their superiors when poverty is massively increasing and people are fearing for their jobs, their homes and whether they’ll be able to put food on the table for their children tomorrow.

They also resented the fact that the royal family, as rich as they are, are subsidized by the rest of us through our taxes. Mike in his article reproduced a number of tweets critical of the monarchy, pointing out that the Queen’s comments that we should put aside our differences in the national interest was the type of slogan the Tories come out with.

One of the tweets by Mark Adkins went further, and said that it wasn’t just the monarchy itself that was the problem, but what they represented: the British class system that made breeding more important than anything else, and which concluded ‘This world view helps justify racism, snobbery and the demonisation of the poor. A Republic is long overdue!’

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/26/insensitivity-of-queens-speech-prompts-backlash-against-the-monarchy/

I’m not a republican, but this did show that the Queen was seriously out of touch. She could have made her speech in more sombre settings or even actually on the front line, as it were, at a food bank to show that she was at least aware how much some people were suffering. It all reminded me of the comments the 19th century German socialist writer Adolf Glasbrenner made about the Prussian monarchy of his day in his piece Konschtitution. The piece is supposed to be an explanation of the German constitution by a father to his son, Willem. It’s written in the Berlin dialect, and is written from the perspective of someone, who really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s like some of Tony Hancock’s speeches, when he started talking about aspects of British constitutional history, that he obviously didn’t know anything about. Like his remarks in the episode ‘Twelve Angry Men’ about Magna Carta being a poor Hungarian peasant girl, who was burned at the stake in order to get King John to close the boozers at half past ten. Or like some of the rants by Alf Garnett about how great Britain is, but without the racism.

Amongst Glasbrenner’s skewed explanation of the Prussian constitution are his remarks on the monarchy. These include:

‘The King does, what he wants; and against that, the people do, what the kind wants. The ministers are therefore responsible for nothing happening. The king rules quite irresponsibly… Should the people come to penury or starvation, so is the king bound, to say he’s sorry.’ He also declares that the form of the state is ‘monarchical-pulcinelle’, the latter word a character from the Italian Commedia dell’arte. The commedia dell’arte was one of the sources of the modern British pantomime as well as Mr. Punch in the Punch and Judy show, so you could possibly translate the phrase into a British context by saying it was ‘monarchical-Mr. Punch’ The piece also has a line that ‘without Junkers (Prussian aristocracy), police and cannon freedom isn’t possible’.

Although it’s a spoof on the Prussian constitution and the classical liberal conception of the state, which was that it should simply guard against crime without interfering directly in society or the economy, it obviously has some relevance to the Tory conception of politics. This also stresses the monarchy, strongly rejects any kind of state interference, and also believes that freedom is only possible through the aristocracy, the armed forces and the police. Although the police aren’t being supported so much these days, as the Tories want to save money by cutting their numbers so that they protect the rich, while the rest of society are left to defend themselves from crime. Perhaps they still think we’ll all hire the private security guards like the Libertarians and Virginia Bottomley were so keen on as replacements.

More ominously, in the present situation over Brexit it also reminded me of a poem by the Liberal Serbian poet Zmaj Jovanovic, ‘The National Anthem of the State of Jutunin’ I found quoted in Vladimir Dedijer’s Tito Speaks (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1953). This is a memoir of the former Yugoslav dictator’s life and his break with Stalin and the Soviet bloc. It was printed in the last issue of Borba, a Communist magazine, when the Yugoslav king, Alexander, seized dictatorial power, dissolving parliament and banning political parties.

O thou, Holy God, keep our King alive
In good health, strong, proud and glorious,
Since this earth has never seen, nor shall
Ever see a king equal to him.
Give him, O Lord, the holiest gifts from heaven:
Police, gendarmeries and spies:
If he doesn’t fight the foe,
Let him keep his own people under his heel.
(p. 69).

I’m not accusing the Queen, nor the Duke of Edinburgh or anyone else in the royal family of planning to seize power and rule like an absolute monarch. But I am worried about Tweezer’s plan to put 3,500 troops on the streets in case of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. Under the Conservatives and New Labour Britain has become a very authoritarian society, including through the establishment of secret courts, where you can be tried in camera without knowing the identity of your accuser and with evidence withheld from your lawyers, all in the interests of national security. We now have a private company, the Institute for Statecraft, publishing smears in the media against Jeremy Corbyn and other politicians and public figures in Europe and America for the British and American secret state. And Mike reports that Tories are now requiring EU citizens or the children of EU citizens resident in England sign up to a central registry, which may make their information available to other public or private bodies without telling anyone which. This is another very disturbing development, as it seems that the British state is determined to leave them open to official persecution. And I’ve said in a previous blog post that a priest at my church, who ministered in Australia, is worried that if Corbyn gets into power, the Tories will try to get the Queen to dismiss him, just as they had her to do Gough ‘Wocker’ Whitlam in the 1970s.

I support the monarchy, but it needs reform and the Queen’s lack of tact in showing off her wealth at a time of great hardship has only made matters worse. And I’m afraid the increasing authoritarianism of the Tory and New Labour governments could discredit the monarchy if and when there’s a backlash.