Posts Tagged ‘John Fortune’

Should I Send the Labour Party a Copy of My Book ‘For A Workers’ Chamber’ as a Policy Suggestion?

September 3, 2020

I got an email from the Labour Party, of which I am a member, the other day asking if I had any policy suggestions. They’ve been holding various policy reviews for a few months now since Keir Starmer took over as leadere, and have sent at least one of these appeals for suggestions before. I can think of two policies I could suggest, one very serious, the other rather more far-fetched.

The first would be an end to the privatisation of the NHS. No further contracts should be given to private hospitals or healthcare companies. No expansion of the number of charges that Tory legislation permits for NHS services. An absolute end to the Private Finance Initiative and the construction of NHS hospitals in partnership with private companies. No handover of doctors’ surgeries or NHS hospitals to private healthcare companies to manage. If people want to pay for their healthcare, fine, but the NHS should not under be sold off to private enterprise, for them to charge us for it as so many Tories, including Dido Harding’s husband, would like.

That’s the very serious one. The other one is a piece of utopian political theorising I wrote two years ago, and published with the print on demand company Lulu. I was furious with the corruption of parliament by corporate interests. It was reported that something like 77 per cent of MPs are millionaires, and that both Houses are packed with the owners and senior officers in private enterprise. Under the corporatism of the late 20th and early 21st century capitalist penetration of politics, private firms now grant donations to parties and individual politicos, and sponsor events and conferences. In return, senior staff and directors are taken on by government as advisors, or put in charge of government departments and committees. Legislation is framed not for the benefit of the community, but for big business. This has occurred not just under the parties of the right, like the Republicans in America and the Tories here in Britain, but also in the Democrats and the British Labour Party under Tony Blair. See George Monbiot’s excellent dissection of it and its consequences in Captive State, and Rory Bremner’s, John Bird’s and John Fortune’s You Are Here. The working class is being shut out of power, even in the very party that was founded to represent it.

For A Workers’ Chamber was my suggestion for combating this by setting up within parliament a separate chamber to represent working people, organised according to industry, and whose members would consist of workers from those industries. Not managers or directors, workers. I based it on arguments for a parliament for working people that had been around since the early Socialists and Chartists in the 19th century. The blurb for my book runs

For a Worker’s Chamber argues that a special representative chamber composed of representatives of the working class, elected by the working class, is necessary to counter the domination of parliament by millionaires and the heads of industries.

It (t)races the idea of worker’s special legislative assemblies from Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, anarchism, syndicalism, Guild Socialism, the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils in Revolutionary Russia, Germany and Austria, the Utopian Socialism of Saint-Simon and the Corporativism of Fascist Italy. It also discusses the liberal forms of corporativism which emerged in Britain during the First and Second World Wars, as well as the system of workers’ control and producer’s chambers in Tito’s Yugoslavia.

It argues that parliamentary democracy should not be abandoned, but needs to be expanded to includ(e) a worker’s chamber to make it more representative.

Of course, such a chamber wouldn’t be necessary if we had a Labour Party that took its job seriously and actually stood for working people rather than corporate interests. There was hope with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, but that’s been severely damaged, if not destroyed completely in many people’s eyes with the election of Keir Starmer. Starmer’s a Blairite neoliberal, who appears to be reversing all the policies agreed and presented in Labour’s last election manifesto. It says so much about the corporate corruption of the party that the Groaniad announced without any shame whatsoever a few weeks ago that the corporate donors, who had stopped funding the party under Corbyn, were now returning under Starmer. Corbyn had transformed Labour into the largest socialist party in Europe, and had raised money not through corporate donations and sponsorship, like Blair, but through ordinary members’ subscriptions. Blair’s and Brown’s determination to cater to big business and turn to winning middle class votes actually lost them working class support, a portion of whom instead turned to UKIP.

And now this seems set to return under Starmer.

So, should I try to be a bit provocative and send my book and its demand for a special chamber of parliament for the workers to the Labour Party as a suggestion for their policy review?

Starmer Returning Labour to Blairite Corporatism, Cronyism and Corruption

August 12, 2020

On Monday Mike put up a piece commenting on a report in the Groan that after corporate donations to the Labour party had almost dried up under Corbyn’s leadership, the fat cat rich were once again giving their cash to the party. This was welcomed by former Blairite fundraiser, Lord Michael Levy, who declared that it was important that the party should be funded by people, who believe in the cause.

As Mike and the various peeps he cites from Twitter, like Jackie Walker, Tory Fibs, Ian Byrne MP, Kam Sandhu and James Foster point out, Corbyn’s leadership proved that big money donations weren’t needed. The party was funded by its members’ subscriptions and it became the biggest socialist party in Europe. And it was in the black. This is an achievement to be proud of. Now all this is imperilled, as Mike points out. The party is haemorrhaging members at the rate of 2,000 a day. Corbyn’s party was about the people, but the influx of the corporate donors threatens this. Mike asks the obvious question of whether they’re doing this because they ‘believe in the cause’ or whether they’re seeking to influence party policy.

He concludes:

It also indicates that “big money” wants to support Starmer’s appeasement of those staffers who are accused of sabotaging the Corbyn project, of racism, misogyny and in some cases anti-Semitism. Because it makes Corbyn look bad without actually proving anything either way?
This is a very bad look for Starmer’s new New Labour.
We already have evidence that indicates around 2,000 people are leaving the party every week.
This may multiply that outward flood into a deluge.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/08/09/is-keir-starmer-re-installing-corruption-into-the-labour-party-with-the-wealth-of-private-donors/

There’s no question about any of this, and the return of Michael Levy as fundraiser says much, all of it negative. Blair met Levy at a meeting at the Israeli embassy, and Levy was instrumental in getting Blair’s office funding from pro-Zionist Jewish businessmen. This allowed Blair to be independent of union funding, and so pursue his modernisation agenda of turning Labour into the Tory party mark 2. It was also a major factor in the creation of viciously persecutory pro-Israeli establishment within the Labour party that has seen critics of Israel’s barbarous maltreatment and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians smeared and purged as anti-Semites simply for reasoned criticism of a racist, colonialist state.

As for these donors wanting to influence party policy, of course they do. New Labour was corporatist through and through. In return for donations from big business, the corporations were allowed to influence government decisions at every level, with senior management advising and serving in government boards and departments. This is extensively described by George Monbiot in his book, Captive State, and by the satirists and impressionists Rory Bremner, John Bird and John Fortune in their book, You Are Here. These were the same corporations that donated to the Tories, and Blair’s Labour was also sponsored and hosted the same think tanks that advised them.

As the peeps from Twitter have pointed out, it was government for the few, not the many.

As a result, Blair’s Labour party became a byword for sleaze and corruption, far in excess of John Major’s government, which had also been notorious for this. And it is utterly disgraceful, but deeply symptomatic, of the Guardian to try to present the return of private corporations in such a positive light. As for Lord Levy’s words, the corporate donors don’t believe in the cause. Or if they do, it’s simply the Blair project of giving them more power. The Labour party was not founded for them. It was founded as a coalition of trade unions and socialist groups and societies to represent ordinary people – the labouring poor. And their interests were not being served by the other parties. The Tories represented the interest of the Anglican aristocracy, while the Liberals were definitely middle class. More democratic, certainly, than the Tories  – the first working class members of parliament were the ‘Lib-Labs’, trade unionists who entered parliament as members of the Liberals, but ultimately committed to free trade and business at the expense of working class interests.

And corporativism is actively harming democracy, both here and in America. A report by Harvard University a few years ago concluded that the USA was no longer a functioning democracy but a corporate plutocracy because of the corporate funding of parties and political candidates. And even some Republicans are fed up with it. One Republican businessman in California wanted to have a law passed that would force politicos to wear the names of the corporations that had sponsored them on their jackets, like sportsmen. The left-wing surge in the Democrat party was also at the beginning very much a revolt against the corporate corruption represented and led by the Clintons.

But Trump is now in the White House, representing the cesspool of corporate politics over the other side of the Pond. And the Blairites have had their way, toppled Corbyn, sabotaged Labour’s elections and are back to reinstalling the corporations they admire at the centre of government.

Which means more privatisation, including that of the NHS, frozen wages, attacks on the welfare state and the privatisation of the NHS. It means mass starvation and more grinding poverty. 

But never mind: the corporations will be in power, exploiting welfare to work schemes, and Israel won’t have to worry about any more pesky criticism about its crimes against the Palestinians.

 

Civil Servants Were Afraid Impressionist Bremner Would Bring Down John Major

January 7, 2020

Before the serious stuff, here’s a bit of fun news. Last Thursday’s I for 2nd January 2020 reported that Rory Bremner’s impressions of former prime minister John Major were so good, he would bring down the government. Bremner had been phoning up various rebellious backbench MPs as Major, and the head of the civil service at the time, Sir Robin Butler, was afraid he’d get hold of the budget. In the article ‘Bremner almost brought down John Major’, Adam Sherwin wrote

Whitehall’s top civil servant feared that Rory Bremner could brind down John Major’s government because the comic’s impersonation of the Prime Minister was so convincing.

Sir Robin Butler, then cabinet secretary, called Michael Grade, the chief executive at Channel 4, to express his concerns after the impressionist made a prank call to a rebellious backbench Tory MP.

Sir Robin feared that Bremner’s impression of Mr Major was so accurate that he would be able to trick then-chancellor Kenneth Clarke into leaking advance details of the Budget.

The could have been devastating to Mr Major, who was steering an administration with a fragile majority.

The prank calls, made in 1993, were intended for use in the comedian’s series, Rory Bremner, Who Else? But Sir Robin stepped in after Bremner fooled Sir Richard Body, one of the Eurosceptic Maastricht rebels who were known as “the bastards”.

Speaking to the Media Matters podcast, Lord Grade of Yarmouth revealed that Sir Robin told him: “We have a bit of a problem. Your Mr Rory Bremner. He’s very good at impersonating the Prime Minister. He’s been ringing MPs.

“We don’t have a problem with that. But the issue we have is that, he’s so good, he could ring the chancellor and get the Budget.”

Lord Grade said he told Sir Robin: “Oh, I get the point. Leave it with me.” Bremner’s team agreed not to air the call, which Sir Robin said was a “great relief”. Lord Grade, who faced controversy over prank calls made by Chris Morris for Brass Eye, later sent Sir Robin a tape of the call.

Bremner has confirmed ringing the MP. “We hadn’t got a script, we were just making it up. It went very well,” he said. “John Major said ‘well this is very funny but it could get quite serious’. So there was this hunt going on.”

Bremner also called Margaret Beckett pretending to be Gordon Brown in 2005, and discussed Cabinet appointments. Lawyers vetoed its broadcast.

Bremner’s series on Channel 4, Rory Bremner: Who Else? and later Bremner, Bird and Fortune with John Bird and John Fortune, who later had their own series, The Long Johns, were hilarious, but they were also very sharp, very serious satire. Amongst the impressions they made serious, factual points about the issues of the day, quoting real statistics. I can remember they were particularly sharp on attacking the government’s and papers’ vicious and misleading policies and statements over immigration. And they also tried to stop the Iraq invasion by sending that up and arguing against it.

The three also published a book during Tony Blair’s tenure of 10 Downing Street, You Are Here, attacking his policies of privatisation and the Public-Private Finance Initiative deals, which were grossly inefficient and which took power away from people and put it squarely in the hands of the corporate bosses, who donated so handsomely to Blair.

Now that the Blairites are trying to seize control of the Labour Party again, I’ll have to dig that book out to show how treacherous their claims and politics are. 

RT’s Establishment Club Road Trip Bus Comes to Bristol

August 14, 2017

Russia Today are sending their Establishment Club bus on a road trip around the country. The name, if I’m not mistaken, is a homage to the satirical club run in the 1960s by the late, great Peter Cook, and which also displayed the talents of John Bird and John Fortune, who continued making satire with Rory Bremner on his show in the early 2000s. The bus, which is appropriately red, was looking for the best satirical talent around the country. Further auditions are planned for Brighton, Edinburgh and Newcastle.

Compered by Keith Allen, a stand-up comedian and the Sheriff of Nottingham on the Beeb’s recent remake of Robin Hood, as well as the father of pop star Lily, this short, five minute video shows some of the talent they had come aboard when they stopped in my home city of Bristol.

There are four or five performers. One chap does two pieces, including a skit at the end about how the Beeb selectively edits interviews with the general public to create the impression it wants, in this case with a drunk, who needs to be coached before associating Brexit with immigrants, before this is edited to show how Britain is alive with racism. Another fellow sings a song on his ukulele about the Fuhrage’s plane crash. May favourite is the man, who recites a poem about the dismantlement of the welfare state. This piece calls it as it is and identifies the social Darwinism underpinning the policy – he sings about ‘Mr. Darwin’s little theory’. Which might be a little unfair to Darwin, as it was formulated by Herbert Spencer.

Allen did raise a few eyebrows, and appear in the press last week, when he attacked the current state of British stand-up. Using his characteristic earthy language, he said it ‘needed a cattle prod to the bollocks’ because of the careerism amongst too many contemporary comics. All they wanted to do, according to him, was tell jokes about the colour of Trump’s hair, and then get on a panel show.

Buddy Hell over Guy Debord’s Cat has, as another comedian, also lamented the decline in the quality of prospective comics. He has said that all too often they simply recite their life history, without actually being funny or making a joke.

I’m sure there are more genuinely funny people out there, and wish Allen and the RT team every success in finding and nurturing the next crop of comedic talent. Talent that will tear great, bloody chunks off the establishment and its monstrous edifice of bureaucratic indifference, corporate greed, and institutional class hate.

1920s Iraqi Poem on the New Constitution and Order Imposed by and for Britain, Not Iraqis

March 6, 2016

Bremner, Bird and Fortune, in their book, You Are Here, detailing the stupid, corrupt and murderous policies of Blair, Bush and co, include a poem by Ma’ruf al-Rasafi on the nature of the new country that had been created by the British under the Mandate. It expresses the view that this new country is purely for benefit of the occupying British, not the peoples of the new state themselves.

A flag, a Constitution, and a National Assembly
Each one a distortion of the true meaning
Names of which we have only utterance
But as to their true meaning we remain in ignorance
He who reads the Constitution will learn
that it is composed according to the Mandate
He who looks at the flapping banner will find
that it is billowing in the glory of aliens
He who sees our Assembly will know
that it is constituted by and for the interests of any but the electors
He who enters the Ministries will find
that they are shackled with the chains of foreign advisors.

(p. 71).

It’s a very accurate description of the nature of the Mandate in the former Mesopotamia. Throughout its history it was ruled by nominally independent politicians on our behalf. One of them was hated so much by the Iraqi people themselves that in the 1950s they hacked him to death in the street. And for good measure, they then ran over the remains with a car. Saddam Hussein was part of these imperialist machinations. He was originally a CIA operative, sent in to kill one of the awkward Iraqi politicos. And the same poem could apply today, in that the occupying powers that drew up the new Iraqi constitution placed limits and clauses in them to make sure that the oil remained in western hands.

And the result has been the chaos of bloodshed that has been this country’s misfortune ever since.

Vox Political: Theresa May Continues to Push the Government’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’

March 2, 2016

Mike over on Vox Political has put up another piece commenting on Theresa May’s continuing drive to get the government’s legislation expanding the powers of the surveillance state passed by the end of this year. This is the piece of legislation that will give the government and police greater powers to hack into your phone, and peruse your web browsing history for a year or so. Her ‘investigatory powers bill’ has been criticised because it does not cover all the intrusive powers of the security agencies to spy on its citizens, nor is the supposed protection it gives to citizens’ privacy at all clear. Mike also has a suitable Twitter comment about this whole cat’s breakfast from Frankie Boyle, who remarks that it’s strange that the government that lost 114 files on child abuse, wants to know every time you post a picture of a cute cat.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/02/mays-police-state-will-miss-important-matters-while-monitoring-your-cat-videos/

This isn’t about combating terrorism. Bremner, Bird and Fortune in their book You Are Here, note that Bliar introduced a whole tranche of legislation massively expanding the surveillance state, justifying them on the grounds that they were needed as it was a state of emergency, despite the fact no such emergency had actually been declared. This is all about the political, industrial and military establishment wishing to extend its powers to monitor, control and punish for its own sake, not to combat crime or prevent terrorism. It’s about reducing the free west to Orwellian levels of coercive, intrusive policing, urged on by an hysterical press – the Daily Mail, Scum, Express and so on.

Bremner, Bird and Fortune on

February 29, 2016

The satirists Rory Bremner and the ‘Long Johns’ Bird and Fortune have a section in their book, You Are Here (London: Phoenix 2004) attacking Tony Blair’s part-privatisation of the London Underground. They point out that while in opposition, Blair had loudly opposed privatisation. Once in power, he was most enthusiastically for it, and the London Underground was one of those businesses slated to be given over to private investment under the PFI initiative. They write

After the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1986, the London Underground could no longer be funded out of the local rates paid by all London households. Ever since then, the Underground has only had two sources of revenue: central government grants and passenger fares. Government grants to upgrade infrastructure have declined from £398 million in 1994/5 to £160 million in 1998/9. This has resulted in fare increases of double the rate of inflation over the last decade, making London’s Tube system the most expensive in Europe.

The government believed this could be solved by the part-privatization of the Underground. it projected that a PPP will make possible £7.5 – 15 billion of new investment, but the only indication of where this investment will come from is a prediction that passenger numbers will increase by 40 per cent over the next fifteen years. But how can such an increased number of passengers be accommodated without an immediate investment programme?

The Tube system spans 400 kilometres of track, 275 stations, and twelve different lines, and there is also the complex issue of who will be responsible for shared lines or interchange stations. The legal documents dealing with it are said to fill fourteen filing cabinets.

Admittedly, this may not interest people outside London, particularly as with the present system it’s very unlikely they’ll manage to the get there in the first place.

It’s the same system that was so signally successful with the railways: London Underground runs the trains; the private contractors run the infrastructure; and any problems, the lawyers will sort out. (Giving new meaning to the warning ‘Mind the gap’.) No wonder the carriages are full – it’s all the lawyers and accountants desperate to get in on the act.

It’s those privatized public services again. The people who put the Enron into electricity, the Railtrack into railway, and the Edexcel into education … Whatever happened to ‘three strikes and you’re out’?

The government love to call anyone who disagrees with them either a wrecker or a cynic. You don’t have to be either to recognize that separating the running of the trains from the maintenance of the track is exactly where the last privatization went wrong. To add insult to injury, one of the new consortiums includes the company responsible for the maintenance at Hatfield. That’s the trouble with these private consortiums. If you try to do away with them they just go underground.

Let’s go over the points:

Under privatization it costs three times as much for each mile of track. On top of all the subcontracting and regulation you’ve got to build in about 30 per cent profit for the private company. And they’ll still get it if the service is 5 per cent worse than it is now. (pp. 162-3). (My emphasis).

They then go on to describe how massively profitable all this is for the firms involved, their accountants and lawyers.

So the PFI deal is massively cumbersome, and even then was set to deliver even worse service. Just like the privatisation of the railways. Now, Blair massively expanded the PFI system, but it was Maggie and John Major that started the ball rolling with their privatisations in the 1980s and ’90s. And the part-privatisation of London Underground was based on the railway privatisation carried out by John Major’s government. A policy that resulted in a series of disasters, including one at Hatfield, resulting in hundreds of deaths and years of litigation as the various rail companies passed the buck between them. And this privatisation policy is being rabidly pursued in the NHS by Cameron.

It should be scrapped immediately. As indeed should the government behind it. And the Blairites should be removed from anywhere near power in the Labour party. Corbyn is absolutely right to champion the nationalisation of the utility services. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just arguing for more rubbish service for the profit of the big corporations.