Posts Tagged ‘John Major’

The Tories Are the Implacable Enemies of Free Speech

September 7, 2020

Since 75 members of Extinction Rebellion decided to do what so many people have wanted to and blockade Murdoch print works in England and Scotland, Boris Johnson and his rabble have been pontificating about democracy and the need to protect a free press. This is all crass, hypocritical rubbish, and the truth, as with so much of Tory policy, is the exact opposite. In all too many instances, the Tories are the inveterate enemies of free speech and press freedom.

Mike and Vox Political have both shown this in their articles reporting that the Council of Europe has issued a level 2 media alert warning about Johnson’s government. This was because MoD press officers refused to deal with Declassified UK, a website focusing on foreign and defence stories. This was because Declassified’s journos had been critical of the government’s use of our armed forces. The Council issued a statement that they did so because the act would have a chilling effect on media freedom, undermine press freedom and set a worrying precedent for other journalists reporting in the public interest on the British military. They said that tough journalism like Declassified’s, uncomfortable though it was for those in power, was crucial for a transparent and functioning democracy. This puts Boris Johnson’s government with Putin’s Russia and Turkey, who also have a complete disregard for journalistic freedom.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/06/heres-the-shocking-reason-your-tory-government-is-more-guilty-of-attacking-press-freedom-than-extinction-rebellion/

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/09/free-speech-tories-speak-with-forked.html

We’ve been this way before, and it’s grim. Way back in the 1980s, Maggie Thatcher withdrew LWT’s broadcasting license over a similar piece of journalism that severely criticised the military. This was the documentary Death on the Rock, about the SAS’ shooting of a squad of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar. The documentary presented clear evidence that the squad had been under surveillance all their way down through Spain, and that the army could have arrested them at any point without bloodshed. This means that the SAS’s shooting of them was effectively an extra-judicial execution. They acted as a death squad.

This wouldn’t have been the first or only instance of such tactics by the British state in Northern Ireland. Lobster has published a number of articles arguing that special SAS units were active under cover in the province with the deliberate task of assassinating IRA terrorists, and that the security forces colluded secretly with Loyalist paramilitaries to do the same.

I heartily condemn terrorism and the murder of innocents regardless of who does it. But if ‘Death on the Rock’ was correct, then the British state acted illegally. The use of the armed forces as death squads clearly sets a dangerous precedent and is a violation of the rule of law. Most Brits probably agreed with Thatcher that the IRA terrorists got what was coming to them, and so would probably have objected to the documentary’s slant. But as the Tories over here and Republicans in the US have argued again and again about freedom of speech, it’s the freedom to offend that needs to be protected. Allowing only speech that is inoffensive or to which you agree is no freedom at all. Thatcher was furious, LWT lost their broadcasting license, which was given to a new broadcaster, Carlton. No doubt named after the notorious Tory club.

Then there was Thatcher’s interference in the transmission of another documentary, this time by the BBC. This was an edition of Panorama, ‘Thatcher’s Militant Tendency’. This argued that, just as Kinnock’s Labour party had been infiltrated by the hard left Militant Tendency, so Fascists from the National Front, BNP and others had burrowed into the Tories. In fact there’s always been concern about the overlap in membership between the Tories and the far right. In the 1970s there was so much concern that the Monday Club, formerly part of the Tory party until David Cameron severed links with it, opened its membership books to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The Panorama programme was also too much for Thatcher, who had it spiked.

At the moment, the Tories are running a campaign to defund and privatise the Beeb under the specious claims that it’s biased against them. They were moaning about bias back in the ’90s under John Major and then Tony Blair, because Jeremy Paxman, among the Beeb’s other journos, insisted on asking tough questions. This resulted in Michael Heseltine walking off Newsnight, tossing his mane, as Ian Hislop described it on Have I Got News For You. Right-wing internet radio hack Alex Belfield has been ranting about how the BBC is full of Guardian-reading lefties in the same way Jeremy Clarkson used to about ‘yogurt-knitters’, who also read the same paper. Guido Fawke’s former teaboy, Darren Grimes, has also been leading a campaign to defund the Beeb. He should know about dictatorships and a free press. His former master, Paul Staines, was a member of the Freedom Association when that body supported the Fascist dictatorship in El Salvador. They invited to their annual dinner as guest of honour one year the leader of one of its death squads.

Belfield and the rest of the right-wing media have been loudly applauding the announcement that the new Director-General will cancel left-wing comedy programmes like Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week. Because they’re biased against the Tories. Er, no. Have I Got News For You was as enthusiastically anti-Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as the rest of the media establishment, to the point where I got heartily sick and tired of watching it. And I haven’t watched Mock the Week for years. I don’t even know if it’s still on. Both the programmes are satirical. They mock the government as well as the rest of the parties. And the dominant, governing party over the past few decades has been the Tories, with the exception of New Labour from 1997-2010 or so. Which means that when they’ve been attacking the Tories, it’s because the Tories have been in power. A friend of mine told me that Ian Hislop, one of the regular contests on HIGNFY and the editor of Private Eye, was once asked which party he was against. He replied ‘Whoever’s in power’. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was a Conservative, but that is, ostensibly, the stance of his magazine. The Tories have been expelling much hot air about how a free press holds governments to account. But in the case of the BBC, this is exactly why they despise it.

The Tories hate the BBC because it’s the state broadcaster, and so is an obstacle to the expansion of Rupert Murdoch’s squalid empire of filth and lies. They’d like it defunded and privatised so that Murdoch, or someone like him, can move in. Not least because Murdoch has and is giving considerable support to the Tories. And in return, the Tories and then New Labour gave Murdoch what he wanted, and he was allowed to pursue his aim of owning a sizable chunk of the British press and independent broadcasting with Sky. This has alarmed those concerned about the threat posed by such media monopolies. It’s why Extinction Rebellion were right to blockade Murdoch’s papers, as both Mike and Zelo Street have pointed out. We don’t have a free press. We have a captive press controlled by a handful of powerful media magnates, who determine what gets reported. John Major in his last years in office realised the political threat Murdoch posed, but by this time it was too late. The Tories had allowed Murdoch to get his grubby mitts on as much of the British media as he could, and he had abandoned the Tories for Blair. Who was all too ready to do the same and accede to his demands in return for Murdoch’s media support. Just as Keir Starmer is desperate to do the same.

Murdoch’s acquisition of British papers, like the Times, should have been blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers’ Commission long ago. There were moves to, but Thatcher allowed Murdoch to go ahead. And Tony Benn was right: no-one should own more than one paper. If the Beeb is privatised, it will mean yet more of the British media is owned by one of press and broadcasting oligarchy. And that is a threat to democracy and press freedom.

The Tories are defending the freedom of the press and broadcasting. They’re attacking it.

The Webbs’ Suggestion for Reforming the Capitalist Press

September 6, 2020

Friday evening Extinction Rebellion took it upon themselves to blockade three print works owned by Murdoch in Merseyside, Hertfordshire and Lanarkshire. The works didn’t just print the Scum and the Scottish Scum, but also the Daily Heil, the Torygraph and the Evening Standard, which are respectively owned by Lord Rothermere, the weirdo Barclay twins and Evgeny Lebedev. The response of the press and indeed the political establishment have been predicted. Priti Patel for the Tories and Labour’s Emily Thornberry have both condemned the blockade as an attack on democracy. As has Keir Starmer, which shows his completely lack of scruples. He’s previously talked about how he was involved in protests against the Murdoch press. But like Blair, he’s desperate to get Murdoch and his empire of filth and lies on his side. Dawn Butler did issue a Tweet supporting Extinction Rebellion, but Starmer showed his true, Blairite authoritarianism and made her take it down.

I’m not a fan of Extinction Rebellion. Their cause is right and just, but I disagree with their tactics. Their strategy of blocking streets, including roads to hospitals, is dangerous and seems designed to annoy ordinary people and cost them support. But this time I think they’ve done the right thing. They’ve released a series of statements on social media pointing out that, contra to the nonsense the press and our leading politicians are saying, we don’t have a free press. Mike and Zelo Street have put up a couple of articles reporting this, and making the same point. The newspapers are owned by a very small number of billionaires. Five newspaper magnates own 83 per cent or so of the British press. And they don’t hold the government to account. Rather they act as propaganda outlets for the government. Mike has a quote from Lord Beaverbrook in which he openly said so. John Major when he was in power used to discuss with his cabinet how they could reach the British public with the help of their friends in the press.

Press and media bias against Labour was on the factors which lost the party the elections against Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s. Several books were published then analysing the media bias and the false reporting. These also made the point that the press was in the hands of a corporate oligarchy, and that they were part of great conglomerations which extended into other industries. As a result, certain issues were very definitely not reported. The Observer didn’t report on the savage crackdown on a mining dispute in Zimbabwe, because its proprietor, Tiny Rowland, was negotiating with Mugabe for a mining concessions.

But the problem of a hostile capitalist press also goes back much earlier to the emergence of organised labour, the socialist movement and then the Labour party in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And Sidney and Beatrice Webb made a few suggestions on how this could be overcome in their book, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain. They recommended that, in line with other industries, they should be transformed into cooperatives, owned and managed by their readers. They write

We hazard the suggestion that here may be found the solution, in the Socialist Commonwealth, of the difficulty presented by the newspaper press. Although Socialists foresee a great development of official journals of every sort, in all the arts and sciences, industries and services, and in different parts of the country (published by authority, national, municipal or cooperative, vocational or university, and often posted gratuitously to those to whom the information is important), probably no Socialist proposes that the community should have nothing but an official press. At the same time, the conduct of a newspaper with the object of obtaining a profit – even more so the conduct of newspapers by wealthy capitalists with the object of influencing the public mind; or the purchase by such capitalists with ulterior objects, of one newspaper after another – appears open to grave objection, and obviously leads to very serious abuses. Especially during the stage of transition from a predominantly capitalist to a predominantly Socialist society, it may be necessary to prohibit the publication of newspapers with the object of private profit, or under individual ownership, as positively dangerous to the community. But this does not mean that there should be no unofficial journals. All that would be forbidden would be individual or joint-stock ownership and commercial profit. The greatest newspaper enterprises could be converted into consumers’ Cooperative Societies, in which every purchaser, or at any rate every continuous subscriber, thereby automatically became a member, casting one vote only, periodically electing a managing committee by ballot taken through the newspaper itself, and the managing committee exercising (with due participation in the management of the vocations concerned) entire control over the enterprise, but being required to devote any surplus of receipts over expenditure to the improvement of the newspaper itself, and being forbidden to distribute any part of it, either in dividends or in excessive salaries, or to individuals at all, otherwise than by way of reduction of the price for the future. It would certainly not be the wish of Socialists to prevent any group of readers from having (with the criminal law) any newspaper that they desired; and the form of a consumers’ Cooperative Society seems to make possible the utmost variety in independent journalism without dependence on capitalist ownership or the unwholesome stimulus of private profit. With periodicals limited to those owned, either by public authorities of one or other kind, or by consumers’ Cooperative Societies – ownership by individual or joint-stock Capitalism being entirely eliminated – the transformation of journalism into an organised and largely self-governing profession, enjoying not only independence and security but also a recognised standard of qualification and training, and a professional ethic of its own, would be greatly facilitated. (pp. 270-1).

I’m not sure the content of the mainstream press would necessarily change if they were transformed into consumer’s cooperatives owned and managed by their readers, as the readers of the Scum, Torygraph and Heil seem to enjoy the lies and hate these rags publish. On the other hand, it would solve the problem of the individual capitalist or company dominating press if the management of these firms were run by their readers, who elected and appointed them. You can just here the screams of Murdoch and co if that was suggested. Let’s do it!

I also note that trials in France have started of those accused of assisting the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre by Islamist terrorists. When the attack occurred, people all over France and the world showed their solidarity with the victims by marching under the banner ‘Je Suis Charlie Hebdo’. Now the Murdoch press and other rags are being blockaded and demonstrated against. So I’d to show where I stand on this issue:

Je Suis Extinction Rebellion.

Get the Big Accountancy Firms Out of My Government

September 2, 2020

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting and commenting on the news that the Tories have squandered £100 million on the usual ratbag assortment of management consultants and big accountancy firms. You know – the usual offenders – PwC, Deloitte and McKinsey since March. This is work that should properly be done by the civil service. They were trained and required to adhere to high standards of impartiality. Unfortunately, too many of them didn’t. I heard much of Thatcher’s and Major’s privatisations, especially of British rail, was strongly supported by one particular senior servants. But the ideal of genuine public service was there. It was why the Sidney and Beatrice Webb, civil servants themselves, had such respect for their profession that their socialist views were strongly bureaucratic. They honestly believed that enlightened servants, guided by an involved public kept informed by honest reporting and the public of official statistics, would make a better job of running the country than the current political class.

The management consultants don’t. They’re in there for their own private profit, and they’ve made one stupid, incompetent decision after another. Mike’s article mentions several which were so bad they had to be reversed almost immediately. But they still keep getting contracts.

This is another piece of corporatist corruption that began with Thatcher and Major. I remember how they’ve royally screwed up the civil service. This started with the former Anderson Consulting, who were called in to reform the Department for Health and Social Security, turning it into the Benefits Agency as a form of half-way house to privatisation. They then went on to do something similar to the Inland Revenue. All this could have changed with the election of Blair. He had the popular mandate. But after the Tories rejected one of Anderson Consulting’s little schemes, Blair fished it out of the dustbin and made it his official policy.

Mike argues that Johnson has called them in because he can’t think for himself. That’s part of it, but not all of it. There’s a piece by Tony Benn in the book ‘The Best of Benn’ where the great socialist criticises the way industry uses management consultants to make conditions in firms worse and start laying off their workers. He states that, in practice, the firms have already decided on this course of action. They’ve called in the management consultants to present their decision as the result of object research into present working conditions. I think much the same is going on here. The Tories and New Labour stand for privatisation. And this is what they’re given by the management consultants and accountancy firms. Plus, I think some of the politicians may well have staff recruited from them and in return are expecting positions on their boards after their political career ends. It’s the constantly swinging open door between politicians, senior civil servants and industry. And its corrupt.

I’ve come to despise the big accountancy firms and look on them the same way the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation are described in Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is a fictional robotics company that is so incompetent, its complaints division now covers the major landmasses of three planets in its home system. They are so bad that the Guide itself describes them as ‘A bunch of mindless jerks who will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes’.

Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But I do want them out of politics and out of government. I’ve started to wish there were demonstrations against them, and the other big businesses that have wormed their way into politics through the sponsorship of the political parties, in return for which they’ve been given positions in government. I wish people were marching against PwC, Deloitte, McKinsey and the rest, parading caricatures of their chief executives and burning them in effigy. Because I think this corporatist corruption will only stop if we show that we aren’t tolerating their interference, for their own profit, in our public affairs.

Johnson’s government has spent £100 million on consultants because he can’t think for himself

BBC Proms Row: ‘Land of Dopes and Tories’

August 28, 2020

The best comment I’ve seen about the current furore over the BBC’s supposed decision to ban the lyrics of ‘Rule, Britannia’, and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the Last Night of the Proms has come from the Labour MP Wes Streeting  He’s said that it’s a distraction to divert attention away from the Tories and their repeated failures. And he’s right. More people are in grinding poverty, the Coronavirus rates appear to be heading back up, they’ve wound up the public body tasked with combating the outbreak right in the middle of the pandemic, and given it to a woman, who has no qualifications for the job apart from the fact that she’s close to Johnson’s coterie, the government’s exam algorithm unfairly marked down 40 per cent of schoolchildren, the vast majority from poor backgrounds, the public deficit has hit over a trillion pounds, thus destroying any credibility the Tories can claim for being the party of sound fiscal management, and they’re still trying to get away with the illegal deportation of the Windrush migrants. While blaming ‘activist lawyers’ of course. Then there’s the cronyism and corruption, as one after another government contracts are given to firms run by or with connections to the Tory party itself and its leaders. The mighty Ash Sarkar of Novara Media has also weighed in on the issue on YouTube with a video describing these claims as ‘a paranoid fantasia’.

But these aren’t the real issues! No! The real issue is that the Beeb is full of evil, unpatriotic, subversive lefties determined to blot out every last trace of British national pride and greatness. And they’re starting by banning the lyrics to ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. Except they didn’t. The decision not sing them was due to the general restrictions on singing imposed by the lockdown. It’s for the same reason that, although churches are now open, worshippers can’t sing the hymns. It’s purely for health reasons, nothing more. But never mind, Boris Johnson has appeared and condemned the Beeb’s decision, thus rescuing us all from this latest Black Lives Matter attack on Britishness.

I have absolutely no problem with either of the two songs. I really enjoy them, and enjoyed the Proms itself when I went with a friend years ago. But I also remember that there have also been spoof versions of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ down the years. One of them was released in the mid-1990s by the Devon band, the Amphibians from Outer Space, fronted by the cryptozoologist Jon Downes. This had the title ‘Land of Dopes and Tories” and was a bitter comment on Britain under the-then Tory government of John Major. I can’t remember the lyrics exactly, but they went something like this:

Land of  dopes and Tories,

Game shows and TV.

The land our fathers fought for

Don’t seem the same to me.

Land of idiot violence 

Where innocent blood is shed

Land where only the assholes

Heard what Mosley said.

Downes clarified the last line, explaining that it referred to Mosley’s prediction that, who ever won the War, Britain would be finished as a world power. Mosley was right about that, but it still doesn’t make him less of a Fascist ***hole himself, who was responsible for so much of the idiot violence in his time.

The song went on for a few more lines before ending with Downes’ declaration that

Anarchy and freedom is everything I want.

With the recent riots in America and the horrific mess of the former anarchist commune in Seattle, anarchy looks much less attractive. But I think the parody, like so much of the bitter social comment of the 1990s, is still very relevant. Boris Johnson’s government is very like that of Major’s in its sleaze, corruption, privatisations and indifference to real, mass poverty. Except, compared to Johnson, Major seems to be a pillar of competence and statesmanship. And this from someone who was considered mediocre at best when he was actually in power.

The lyrics for ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ haven’t been banned for any left-wing ideological reasons. The Tories are lying when they tell you they are. And Downes’ spoof lyrics accurately describe them, and the Britain of hatred and violence they’ve created.

It’s the Tories, Not Channel Migrants, Who Are Killing People

August 10, 2020

Hey-ho, the Torie are back to their old tricks again, drumming up hatred against immigrants and asylum-seekers. This time its the various illegal immigrants trying to make their way across thee Channel in whatever flimsy boats will take them. Mike and Zelo Street have both published excellent pieces demolishing this faux outrage. The Street reported the figures for the number of people immigrating to the UK last year and the number of asylum claims according to the Beeb. These were 677,000 and 49,000 respectively. Compared to this number, the 4,000 or so illegals who have arrived here is a vanishingly trivial number. Nevertheless, this is being described in terms of an invasion. Hatey Katie Hopkins wants gunboats to intercept them. However, the Lords of the Admiralty can’t send the navy against children and pregnant women. The odious, smirking Priti Patel has therefore chosen instead to appoint Dan O’Mahoney of the National Crime Agency to the position of chief in charge of intercepting these boats. The Royal Navy said that there wasn’t much more they could do, and Colin Yeo, a barrister specialising in immigration, stated that the navy couldn’t enter French waters to return migrants either. Furthermore, the hard Brexit sought by the government has meant that the current returns agreement with the EU ends on 31st December 2021, and so far there’s no replacement agreement for it. Which means that the government has actually made it harder to return such migrants than it was under the EU.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/08/migrants-brexit-and-taking-back-control.html

Mike has also pointed out that way back in 2014, Theresa May, then home secretary, cut the Border Force, which is why the Tories have had to appeal to the navy. Mike also guesses that many of the immigrants coming here are fleeing the wars in their homelands, we have helped to start. He also says that ‘The issue is why these people want to come to the UK at all. If we really wanted to stop them, we need to help end their reasons for leaving their own homelands.’ It’s a good point, but I think some of their reasons for leaving are beyond our control. The impoverishment of the Developing World is a major cause, and some of this is due neoliberalism and the various tariff restrictions on manufactured goods which prevent developing nations in Africa, for example, from diversifying their economies and developing manufacturing industries. But there are also major problems with corruption, ethnic and religious conflict, political oppression and maladministration, for which the various governments of the developing world are responsible and which, I believe, would be extremely difficult for western governments to do anything about. But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.

But Mike has also argued very strongly that the Tories are also whipping up this hatred as a cynical distraction from their own failings.  He cites this tweet from James O’Brien:

The calculation is that, with the support of most of the media, the British public can be made angrier about innocent foreigners than guilty politicians responsible for thousands of British deaths.
And all while claiming to care about ‘Christian’ values.
It will work too.

And this from Nick Abbott

God we’re easily distracted. They don’t even have to really try any more. The excess deaths, the hundreds of millions for kit that doesn’t work, ripping up regulations to suit donors, the kleptocracy and nepotism. But look…a dinghy!

The Tories crippled their own border controls. Don’t let them use their own stupidity to boost racism

He’s right. It isn’t migrants from across the Channel, who have squandered taxpayers’ money giving contracts to firms owned by their donors for PPE that doesn’t work. It isn’t poor souls in leaky dinghies that are pushing for schools to reopen, so that parents will be forced to return to work to make money for the Tories despite the real, present danger of Covid-19.

Illegal immigrants aren’t responsible for the massive poverty caused by decades of stagnant wages and pay cuts. They aren’t responsible for real starvation and malnutrition returning to Britain because the welfare state doesn’t work thanks to benefit sanctions and the fitness for work tests, both of which are based on fraudulent research and an inbuilt presumption against the claimant in order to stop people from claiming. Illegal immigrants never made the decision to make the whole process of signing on as degrading and humiliating as possible in order to deter people from doing so – that was Maggie Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and so on. And it very definitely isn’t Black and Brown people coming off the beach from Dover, who have been selling off the NHS for the past forty years.

It hasn’t been powerless migrants, who have sacked thousands of low-paid workers during the lockdown while claiming the government bailout money to boost their chief executives’ pay and share dividends. And if there is competition between migrants and native Brits – by which I also mean Black and Asian Brits, who’ve been here for generations as well as Whites – for housing, jobs and other opportunities, it’s because the Tories have deliberately cut all those to make it difficult to get them.

There have been over a hundred thousands deaths due to austerity and cuts to benefits. Millions of people now have a choice between paying their rent and heating bills or feeding themselves or their children. Who are themselves going hungry to school. The number of people below the poverty line is now in millions.

And this is  very definitely the fault of the Tories, and Blair’s and Browns New Labour. It ain’t the fault of a vanishingly tiny number of illegals risking life and limb to get here.

Don’t be distracted. Don’t let them lie to you. Ignore the calls to hate them from the Tory press, Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farage. The people, who really are killing us and driving us into poverty are the Tories.

Daily Express Article from 30 Years Ago about Controversy over Black Tory Candidate in Cheltenham

July 19, 2020

For all that David Cameron tried to clean up the Tory party’s image of anti-Black, anti-Asian racism nearly two decades ago, the Tory party has always had a nasty undercurrent of it. Mike’s reminded people on his blog that Winston Churchill thought the Tories should campaign on a ‘Keep Britain White’ ticket in the 1950s. Then there were the posters screaming ‘If you want a N****r for a neighbour, vote Labour’, the scandals about Norman Tebbit and the Monday Club, the demands by the various Tory youth organisations for the adoption of racial nationalism – the doctrine that only Whites can be British citizens – as official Tory policy, and the vicious islamophobia, anti-Black, anti-Asian racism and anti-Semitism amongst the supporters of Bozo and Jacob Rees-Mogg uncovered by ‘Jacobsmates’. But Boris, who is hardly innocent of racism himself, has seen fit to do as little possible regarding an inquiry into islamophobia, while the Tories and the rest of the British political and media establishment screamed spurious accusations of anti-Semitism at the Labour Party. With the Black Lives Matter protests have come demands for proper investigations and steps to combat structural racism in Britain. And Bozo has promised an inquiry into it, just as he did last time.

Going back through my scrapbooks, I found this article below from the Depress by Nicholas Assinder from December 4th 1990 about the controversy over the appointment of a Black candidate, John Taylor, in Cheltenham. Taylor had the backing of Major and Tory bigwigs like Norman Tebbit and Geoffrey Dickens, but was strenuously opposed simply because of his race by some local Tories. The article reads

Black Tory Row: Major Steps In

Premier turns on bigot and defends candidate

John Major will act tonight to defuse the race row over the Tories’ first Black candidate to be selected in one of their traditional strongholds.

 The Prime Minister will round on critics at Cheltenham who are calling for the removal of their would-be MP John Taylor, a British-born son of West Indian parents.

Mr Major, who will demand the selection stands, is determined to halt the potentially-damaging situation which conflicts with his vision of a classless Britain.

He will defend barrister Mr Taylor in a speech to the Conservative National Association in London. And last night other senior Tories also came to the candidate’s aid. Home Secretary Kenneth Baker made a public show of support by warmly shaking hands with 38-year old Mr Taylor as he left his adviser’s job in Mr Baker’s department.

Mr Major’s intervention follows an outburst by Cheltenham party member Bill Galbraith in which he described the candidate as a “bloody n****r” who had been foisted on the constituency.

Former Tory chairman Norman Tebbit said yesterday Mr Galbraith was an “ignorant man who holds no position or power” in the local party.

Mr Tebbit predicted Mr Taylor would be Britain’s first Black Cabinet minister. “I have the greatest respect for him and am confident he will prove to be an excellent asset to the party,” he said.

Backbencher Geoffrey Dickens denounced Mr Galbraith’s attack as being reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

Home Office minister Angela Rumbold said of Mr Taylor: “he will make an excellent MP. I am sure he will appeal to a broad cross-section of the Cheltenham community. He is an extremely nice, gentle and approachable young man.”

The row began when Cheltenham Tories chose Mr Taylor to replace their retiring MP Sir Charles Irving who had a majority of 4,896 at the last general election….

There was a continuation to the article, but that’s nearly all that I clipped out. There are now, of course, several Black and Asian Tory MPs and no doubt the Tories will be keen to stress this against anti-racism protesters. As for Cheltenham, there was a mass Black Lives Matter demonstration there a few weeks ago, attended by both Blacks and Whites. It’s become far more diverse than when I was there as a student over thirty years ago. I gather from talking to friends up there that the Tory party was nearly split on the issue of Taylor’s candidacy, and that some really did want to see racial nationalism adopted as official party policy. But I don’t believe that the town as a whole is particularly racist.

But this incident does show how racist the Tories have been, as they still are, despite their efforts to get people to believe the opposite.

From 25 Years Ago: Private Eye on the Failings of the Privatised Water Companies

July 13, 2020

A few days ago I put up a piece about a report in the I that stated MPs had criticized the regulatory authorities for their failure to ensure that the water supply is adequately maintained. According to the I, the supply is in such a terrible state that within 20 years England may run out of water.

This isn’t exactly surprising, as environmental scientists, ecological activists and archaeologists have been warning about the terrible possibility of a global drought as the world runs out of supplies of drinking for over two decades. And in the 1980s the SF author Alfred Bester set his last book, Golem 100, in the ‘Guf’, a sprawling metropolis covering America’s eastern seaboard somewhat like Judge Dredd’s Megacity 1. Society in the Guf was decaying, with different areas controlled by various gangs and terrorist groups. Crime was rampant, and in addition to the social and political decline and fragmentation the huge megacity also suffered from a shortage of drinking water.

The regulatory authorities aren’t solely to blame for the deleterious state of England’s water. The industry is also responsible, and particularly its privatization in the 1980s and ’90s by the Tories. This was supposed to bring new investment. This hasn’t materialized in the privatized utilities, either here or in the US. In this country, these industries owners are foreign companies, which put the minimum into maintaining them while taking the profits out of the country.

Private Eye was a sharp critic of the Tories privatizations when they were being pushed through by Maggie Thatcher and then John Major. And one of their criticisms at the time was that the Tories appointed as heads of the new regulators, such as Ofwat and the Environment Agency in the case of water, people from the private sector, who shared the Tories view that government should leave industry to regulate itself. This was the beginning of the corporatist system, in which private industry is entwined with government to the point where it dictates official policy. This became notorious under Tony Blair, with leading industrialists like David Sainsbury of the supermarket company given posts on government bodies, that Guardian hack George Monbiot wrote an entire book attacking it, Captive State.

I found three reports of some of the antics of the privatized water companies in the ‘Privatisation Round-Up’ column in an old copy Private Eye from 25 years ago, Friday, 16th June 1995. They were as follows:

It’s tough at the top of a water company – especially if you are William Courtney, chairman of Southern Water, and all you hear are grips about your salary, your £250,000 share options (cashed) and the increasing cost of water in your area.

The public probably doesn’t realise how hard Mr Courtney works. In his capacity as director of Waterline Insurance, for example, a major subsidiary of Southern Water, he recently had to attend a long conference. As did his long-suffering wife Margaret; his diligent finance director at Southern Water, Ray King; and Ray’s long-suffering wife Sandra.

The relevance of the conference – on “international risk management” – may not be immediately obvious to Southern Water consumers, who will ultimately foot the bill; but the surroundings were relevant. Hard-working Mr Courtney and Mr King and their spouses attended the five-day conference at the luxury Marriott’s Castle Harbour Hotel in Bermuda – and as everyone knows Bermuda is surrounded by, er, water.

OFWAT, the water regulator, likes ot boast of its own successes, but the residents of Clyst St George in Devon are not convinced. Their case has been sitting in OFWAT’s tray for three years.

Their argument began when the National Rivers Authority ordered a clean-up of local ditches which acted as open sewers for septic tanks. The bill for householders could have run into the thousands. When the case finally ended up in court it was ruled that the responsibility fell on South West Water to bring the ditches up to modern hygiene standards.

South West Water had better things to spend the money on – like share options worth £144,95 for its managing director. The consumers turned to the apparently powerful watchdog OFWAT to force South West Water to take action. Finally, after no encouragement from OFWAT, the company is now thinking of installing the new sewerage system. But it still refuses to foot the bill and has approached the residents for a financial contribution towards the clean-up.

The European Union, meanwhile, is investigating why Yorkshire Water, which is now trying to buy up its own shares, was once given £23 million of regional aid to fatten it up for privatisation when the sold-off company now makes profits of more than £140 million a year.

The money, from a fund earmarked regenerating regional economies in the EU, was spent on improvements to three sewage works – improvements that had to be carried out in any event. When the EU bureaucrats sent the cheque, perhaps they forgot to point out that regenerating local economies does not mean boosting shareholders’ dividends and executive salaries.

I have a feeling that Yorkshire Water was hit by so many scandals that it ended up re-branding itself as Kelda.

These stories are an example of why English water is in the terrible state it is: greedy senior management doing as little as possible to maintain or improve the supply, awarding themselves grossly inflated pay and benefits and flitting off to foreign junkets and complacent and apathetic regulators doing as little as possible to protect the interests of these companies’ customers.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party were quite correct to demand these companies’ renationalization, along with other utilities. And it can’t come soon enough.

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.

Radio 4 Tackles Bad Culture

May 20, 2020

Ho ho! According to next week’s Radio Times for 23rd – 29th May 2020, next Saturday’s The Archive will be on the subject of Bad Culture. This is the type of music, art, literature, film, TV or whatever which is so bad that it’s entertaining. The blurb about it in the Radio Times reads

Steve Punt is joined by Grace Dent, Robin Ince and Laura Snapes to analyse why seemingly bad culture can be so enjoyable, looking at the films of Michael Winner, the songs of Astley and the poetry of Danielle Steele.

The programme’s Archive on 4: So Bad It’s Good?, and it’s on Radio 4, Saturday 23rd May, at 8.00 pm.

Robin Ince, who presents The Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio 4 with Brian Cox, wrote a book a few years ago, The Bad Book Club. This was about some of his favourite terrible books, one of which was the autobiography of John Major’s half-brother, Terry Major-Ball. But people have been particularly bad films for a very long time. I think that goes back to the ’70s at least, when Michael Medved, before he morphed into a right-wing pundit, published The Golden Turkey Awards about some of the worst movies ever made. Then in the early ’80s he presented Channel 4’s The Worst of Hollywood, which screened some of the classics of Bad cinema. These included Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster, The Wild Women of Wonga and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

Ed Wood was the stunningly bad director who also gave the world Glen/Glenda or I Changed My Sex, and Robot Monster. The costume for the latter creature was a gorilla suit with a diving helmet stuck on top. The guy who played it did so because he owned the gorilla suit. I think it’s also in Robot Monster that there’s a 2 minute segment of dinosaurs going on the rampage for no reason at all. It’s because Wood’s studio was right next to that of stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen was responsible for a string of SF/monster movies, including Earth Versus the Flying Saucers, as well as the sequence in the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad where the Arab sailor fights an army of skeletons. Wood used to go round to Harryhausen and use any material that the other director had no use for after editing. That day Harryhausen had cut 200 feet of film out of a film about dinosaurs, and gave it to Wood when he asked him if there was anything he could use. Glen/Glenda is about a man struggling to come to terms with his transvestism. It’s a serious subject, which in the hands of a good director would no doubt be highly praised by critics. But this was made by Wood, so it’s abysmal. Like Plan 9 From Outer Space, it has Bela Lugosi in it. He plays God in a dream sequence in which he says ‘Dance to this, dance to that, but beware the little green dragon sleeping on your doorstep.’ This makes no sense at all. The film is, however, one of Alice Cooper’s favourites, or so he told Muriel Grey on Channel 4’s pop programme The Tube a long time ago. When she asked him ‘Why?’, he replied that it was because it made him wonder just what he had just watched because it was so weird. Her reply was classic: ‘You’re a strange boy, Alice’. Yes, and he’s made a whole career out of it. Wood was himself a transvestite with a passion for cashmere sweaters, a fact not lost to the makers of the ’90s film biography of him.

Since The Worst of Hollywood has come Mystery Science Theatre 3000. This is an SF look at Bad Films, in which the crew of an orbiting satellite a thousand watch, and make rude remarks about, terrible movies. The SF author, Jack Womack, responsible for a series of books set in a violent, dystopian future Ambient, Random Acts of Mindless Violence, Heathern and Elvissey, is also an aficionado of weird and Bad books. He supplied a list of some of his favourites in his personal collection, with his comments on them, in an interview he gave in the ’90s to the Science Fiction magazine, SF Eye. They included Bottom’s Up with the Rear Admiral: Memoirs of a ProctologistThe Elvis Image, which is about a journalist crisscrossing the deep south in search of Elvis impersonators, and Behold! The Protong!!! by Stanislaw Szuchalski. Womack described this as ‘America’s greatest eccentric tells you why Communists are descended from the Yeti’. 

A few years an academic did a study of the type of people who deliberately went to see bad movies. He found that they tended to be of above average intelligence, and also watched transgressive cinema. You know, like the films of John Waters and some of the other cinematic horrors Jonathan Ross discussed in the ’80s in his Channel 4 series, The Incredibly Strange Film Show. They like those for the same reasons they enjoy terrible films, because both provide an experience that is outside the mainstream.

This could be a very funny, interesting programme about some truly awful cultural productions. But will it include any clips from Wood’s wretched oeuvre? 

Despite the Lockdown, Tories Still Enforcing Benefit Sanctions

April 23, 2020

Mike put this story up only a few a hours ago, and its disgusting. According to the DWP, their promise that there would not be any sanctions for three months during the Coronavirus emergency only meant that there wouldn’t be any new sanctions. If you’re already sanctioned, tough – those sanctions are still very much in place.

A young man in his early 20s, Ben, found this out the hard way according to the Mirror. He had been sanctioned earlier this year because he had not found work. He believed, however, the freeze would be lifted during the crisis, like the payment holiday for homeowners and the payments made to support employees furloughed. But this didn’t happen. After waiting a week to go shopping, he received a statement from the DWP’s online portal last Thursday that his family were entitled to a big, fat, round zero. He was directed to take out a hardship loan instead, which he would have to pay back if and when he was given benefit. Mike’s of the opinion that it’s the Tories’ plan to force him, and those like him, further into debt and hardship.

The DWP then issued its clarification to the Mirror, which stated that sanctions imposed before the freeze still continue to apply. As Mike points out, this means that people, who were led to believe that they would be helped in during the crisis, are left to fend for themselves with no money. And it’s especially harsh on the disabled, who may find it difficult coping with sanctions normally.

Fortunately, it has worked out well for Ben, as after the Mirror took up his case, the DWP reinstated his payments and gave him £1,600.

Benefit sanctions have NOT been suspended – as Universal Credit claimant found out the hard way

The Tories began replacing benefits with loans a long time ago. I think it began under John Major, when they set up the Social Fund in the DHSS as it then was. The previous system, I believe, included a series of grants that could be made to the unemployed to purchase necessities that they couldn’t afford. This was replaced by a system of loans. Some of those loans were to give claimants money to tide them over a certain period, for example if they had absolutely no money and still had to wait several days or a week for their benefit cheque. Others were for the desperately poor, who could not afford to buy certain necessities, like cookers. The system meant that those, who were already desperately poor, would be left with even less money if they were forced to take out these loans due to the repayments, which would be deducted from their benefits. Not everyone approved of the Social Fund system, and some Benefits Agency staff privately said that the previous grants system was better.

Since then, the Tories have expanded this scheme into a replacement for welfare, a policy the authors of The Violence of Austerity call ‘debtfare’. There’s an entire chapter on it, and how it is leaving people vulnerable to starvation and homelessness, as well as mental health problems from the stress of worrying about this danger and debt obligations.

But I think that’s the point. You degrade, humiliate and impoverish the poor, following Thatcher’s ‘Victorian value’ of less eligibility, so that they will do anything not to have to take up state aid. It also benefits the employers by giving them a cowed, fearful workforce, which will put up with poor wages, terrible conditions, few employment rights and insecure contracts, simply to avoid the humiliation and starvation inflicted by the DWP.

This crisis and the necessary lockdown have pushed many more Brits into poverty. We’ve already seen mass sackings, when some employers decided that rather than apply for the government’s payment of 80 per cent of their employees wages during the lockdown, they’d rather sack them instead. This would have surprised no-one, who actually knew how rapacious some business people can be. It did, however, shock the Beeb’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg. This either shows how massively naive she is in some ways, with a very idealised notion of capitalism completely at odds with what it’s like for many people. Or it shows just how insulated she is as part of an extremely affluent, metropolitan media set. Way back when Cameron was inhabiting 10 Downing Street, it was revealed just how many leading members of the lamestream media lived in his home village of Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds. And while 80 per cent of people’s wages may sound generous, it means that those, who are paid far less than the living wage and who therefore find it a struggle to cope normally, are forced even further into poverty.

The many people made unemployed and forced to rely on jobseeker’s allowance will not have magically found work by the time the lockdown is lifted. They will still be faced by the sanctions system, so there will be even more people reliant on charity and food banks, and more people forced onto the streets. Perhaps Laura Kuenssberg will be astonished by that as well. The Tories won’t, as it’s what they’re aiming for. But they will hide it from the rest of us so people keep voting for them, deluded into believing that the ranks of the unemployed has magically come down through the invocation ‘market forces’ and ‘personal responsibility’.

The sanctions system is an abomination. It should be ended now, not merely given a rest during this crisis.