Posts Tagged ‘Lockdown’

Afghanistan Withdrawal – the Conspiracy Theories Start

September 2, 2021

For some the catastrophic departure of the western armed forces from Afghanistan has been almost unimaginable. This is not surprising, as successive governments have been telling us for years that the Taliban had been successfully contained and victory was only a few months away. They find it particularly incomprehensible that the US and western armed forces were so unprepared for the Taliban’s reconquest of the country, that President Biden has left 73 military planes and $80 billion worth of kit behind in the scramble to get out. One of these is the mad right-wing YouTuber and internet radio host, Alex Belfield. In the video below, Belfield wonders if all that military equipment has been deliberately left behind to be taken and used by the Taliban, in order to provide the pretext for more wars. He sees this as part of an overall strategy by out governments to keep us afraid. One of these ruses has been, so he argues, the Coronavirus. He seems to follow here the line of some of the sceptics that Covid doesn’t present a real threat, but has just been used by the government in order to justify a totalitarian seizure of power through the lockdown.

Belfield’s been sceptical about the Coronavirus and the lockdown almost from the beginning. His argument is usually that the lockdown is doing more harm than good to the economy and to the health, mental and physical, of the British people. He’s right in that clearly people’s businesses and wellbeing is suffering, but is completely and utterly wrong about lifting the lockdown and letting the disease take its course and carry off whoever it may.

But I can’t say that his paranoia about the US leaving behind so much military equipment is unwarranted. The American and British public were miss-sold the wars in the Middle East. We were told we were freeing Afghanistan from a brutal theocratic tyranny and defending America and ourselves from future terrorist attacks. We weren’t. The troops were sent in to secure the country so that an oil pipeline could be built, one which Bush’s administration had been in talks with the Taliban to build. The Taliban had pulled out, and so the NeoCons were looking for an excuse to invade. This came along in the shape of 9/11.

Ditto Iraq. We were informed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that he was in league with Osama bin Laden. He wasn’t. Hussein had led a largely secular regime, which was cordially hated by bin Laden and his Islamist fanatics. We were told that the invasion would liberate the Iraqi people from Hussein, who really was a tyrant. But the invasion wasn’t about granting a grateful Iraqi people democracy. It was about Aramco, the joint Saudi-American oil company seizing the country’s oil reserves and the western oil companies grabbing its oil industry. Other multinationals, such as Haliburton, which employed various members of Bush’s family and cabinet colleagues, seized its state industries. Meanwhile the country descended into sectarian violence and chaos, the secular state and the feminism it promoted vanished, and the private military contractors – read: mercenaries – hired as part of the peacekeeping forces ran amok with drug and prostitution rings. They also amused themselves by shooting ordinary Iraqis for sport.

It’s been said that America is a ‘warfare state’. That is, its military-industrial complex is so pervasive and powerful that its entire economy is geared to and depends on war. It was suggested years ago in one of the publications of the old Left Book Club, as I recall, that this is deliberate. American political ideology rejects Keynsianism, the economic doctrine that maintains that the state should interfere in the economy through welfare spending, public works and so on to stimulate it. American political culture, on the other hand, rejects this in favour of laissez-faire. But the American economy still needs government intervention, and the only way the American state can do this is through war and military spending. Hence the continual need to find new wars to fight. First it was the Cold War, then the War on Terror.

I tend to believe in ‘cock-up’ rather than conspiracy – that the world is the way it is because of the incompetence of the authorities, rather than that there is some overwhelming and all-pervasive conspiracy against us. This does not rule out the fact that real conspiracies by the intelligence agencies, big business and various covert political groups really do occur. My guess is that the armaments left behind in Afghanistan are there as a result of incompetence rather than a deliberate plot to produce more war and international instability for the benefit of the war profiteers.

But after the lies that have sustained two decades and more of war and occupation in the Middle East, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was true.

Mad Right-Winger Alex Belfield Calls for the Revival of Working Men’s Clubs

August 3, 2021

Certain commenters on this blog have described Alex Belfield as my favourite right-winger. Well, he’s not quite that, but I do admit, I watch his videos, which may not be a good thing at all. Belfield is, I’m fairly sure, a working class Tory. He talks about how he comes from a pit estate and inveighs against the way the White working class has been neglected by liberals in the BBC and politics. Who, as he sees it, all read the Guardian, eat oysters like Naga Manchetti, for whom he seems to have a particular dislike, and are determined to push ‘box-tickers’ like gays, the ‘ambivilacious’, by which he means trans and non-binary people, and folks of colour over ordinary working people. His audience is very much the same type of people, who formed UKIP’s constituency: working class Whites in their fifties and over, who feel left behind by the mainstream parties.

There is a genuine issue here. Tony Blair and his successors abandoned the working class in the pursuit of middle class votes and Tory swing voters. At the same time, they retained and promoted minority rights and issues, loudly supporting multiculturalism, feminism and gay rights. The result was that a large section of the working class has become alienated from the Labour party, with many socially conservative older members attracted to right-wing organisations and individuals like the Kippers, Nigel Farage and Belfield. About a decade ago, the BBC put on a series of programmes about race and contemporary racial politics in the UK. One of those was a documentary asking if the White working class was being written out of contemporary politics. The trailer for this showed a man, in stereotypical working class clobber, having words written in black on his face until he gradually became invisible. I think it’s a fair question, and the Labour left is serious about tackling this alienation within an anti-racist framework by working hard for all members of the working class. That’s the best way of fighting Fascism and right-wing populism. But the voices, who are most vocal about defending the White working class are people like Belfield.

And these are people whose political and economic views are actively hostile to working class interests.

Belfield in many ways is a case in point. A few days ago he put up a video lamenting the state of the country. He was particularly concerned about the NHS and the massive waiting lists that have emerged due to Tory maladministration. The Health Service, he declared, was no longer fit for purpose, and would and should be scrapped. He wants it sold off to private administration. In fact, it’s the Tories’ piecemeal privatisation of the NHS that is responsible for waiting lists and poor service, and this will only get worse as they hand over more of it to their noxious backers in the private sector. And if the NHS is sold off completely, it will be transformed into a for-profit service, funded by private medical insurance like America’s. The result will be disastrous. Thousands of people will die and go without the medical care they need because they won’t be able to afford it. Already GPs’ surgeries, that have been handed to private healthcare suppliers, have been closed and their patients left without their traditional doctors, because these surgeries haven’t provided as big a profit to their owners as they’d like.

By championing the NHS’ privatisation, Belfield is most definitely working against, not for, his working class viewers and listeners.

He’s also concerned about the lack of opposition to Boris Johnson from the Labour party. He has a point, although it seems to come from his opposition to the lockdown and frustration that all of the parties are supporting it. Looking at the recent dismal election results for Labour, Belfield had a few suggestions of his own how the party could win back votes. Instead of concentrating on issues no-one’s really interested in, like trans rights, Labour should go back to talking to its traditional working class supporters, and start listening to them and take on board the issues that matter to ordinary people. These are bread and butter issues like healthcare provision, jobs and getting enough money to put food on the table. I agree, although I do think that the debate over trans rights is immensely important, if only because of the massive expansion of the number of young women and girls now self-identifying as trans. Labour should be fighting for better healthcare, combatting unemployment and poverty.

But this means a wholesale rejection of Tory and Blairite neoliberalism, a neoliberalism Belfield supports.

It means kicking the parasites out of the NHS and renationalising it. It means restoring the welfare state, so that the poor, the disabled, the elderly and the unemployed are given enough to live on. It means ending the wretched gig economy, including fire and rehire and zero hours contracts. And it definitely means an end to the wage restraint which has seen working people effectively take a cut in wages, while the salaries of the elite become ever more obscenely bloated.

Belfield also clearly misses the decline of traditional working class communities. And this is where he got really interesting. He wanted the return of the old working men’s clubs.

Now I actually agree with him there. Traditional working and lower middle class communities had a solidarity and ethos of mutual support that has vanished as society has become more individualistic. Thatcherism, and it’s Labour party variety, Blairism, partly drew on the decline of the British working class. As more people moved out of the working class into the lower middle class, taking up white collar jobs and buying their own homes rather than living in council estates, the right became convinced that working people were no longer a political force. A few months ago I found a video from one of the right-wing political sites on YouTube, in which a pundit blandly declared that Labour was doomed when working people moved away from their traditional working conditions. When they stopped living in back-to-back housing, for example. I disagree. More people may have moved into the lower middle class, but very many of them still have the views, aspirations and desires traditionally associated with the working class. It doesn’t matter that many of them are now office workers – working conditions in many offices and call centres is as ruthlessly exploitative as Victorian factories. See books like White Collar Sweatshop. Working people, whether labourers or office clerks, still want job security, protection from zero hours and exploitative short term contracts. They want proper sick and maternity pay. They also want proper wages that will support them and their families. They also want and deserve proper NHS treatment, a working welfare state and public utilities that are owned and operated by the state for the good of the British people, not for private, foreign investors.

Which are all Corbynite policies.

The right in America and Britain has benefited from the decline in traditional working class communities. One book I read attacking the Neocons, Confronting the New Conservatism, argued that the neo-Conservatives had been successful in gaining public support because of the social atomisation that came from the decline of working class institutions. The decimation of the trade unions and other working class institutions meant that many working people only met collectively with others when they went to church. And the ‘White flight’ of White working class people to the suburbs away from Black communities in the urban core meant that Black and White Americans were separate and divided, and so the right could play on White racial fears.

This atomisation would be reversed if working class institutions, like the old working men’s clubs, came back.

I don’t think they could be called ‘working men’s’ clubs, not after the progress of feminism. Working people’s clubs, perhaps? It may not be possible to revive them, as it would mean taking on the aggressive individualism that has advanced over the last century, as well as reviving community entertainment and participation so that it could compete with TV, computer games and the internet. But if it could be done, it could very well lead to a very strong revival in working class consciousness. A working class consciousness that would be shared by the lower middle class.

And that could very well scupper all the Thatcherite and Blairite bilge of the last forty-odd years.

Which would be very upsetting for Tories like Belfield.

Let’s do it!

Right-Winger Belfield Attacks Tesco Humanless Stores – And He’s Right!

June 26, 2021

I’ve put up a number of posts commenting on videos produced by right-wing internet radio Alex Belfield. Belfield is a working class. He says he was born and raised in a pit village, never went to university and was therefore sneered at and looked down upon by his co-workers and superiors in local radio. He has a real chip on his shoulder about this, and is constantly denouncing the BBC and its staff, who are supposedly very middle class ‘Guardian-reading, champagne-sipping left-footers’. He hates the affirmative action programmes for Blacks and modern media identity politics, describing the Blacks and those of other ethnic minorities, as well as the gays, who fill them as ‘box-tickers’. He is particularly scathing about BLM, though there are many reasons why people, not just on the right, should despise them. He’d like the lockdown lifted, Priti Patel to start taking tougher action on the ‘dinghy divers’, the illegal immigrants coming over the Channel in leaky boats. I think he also thinks that many disabled people are just malingerers, and would definitely like the NHS privatised and handed over to private management.

But in this video, Belfield is exactly right. Tesco have announced that they are launching stores that don’t have tills. Instead, it seems, people will just pay for what they want using an app on their mobiles or other device. I can remember something about this on the BBC news a few months ago. In these stores there are to be no, or hardly any, serving staff. You simply walk in, take what you want and leave. There are cameras mounted around the store watching what you pick up, which is automatically deducted from your account.

Obviously there are a number of major issues with this idea. One is privacy. Everyone who comes into the shop is under electronic surveillance, another step towards the kind of totalitarian surveillance society that’s been introduced in China, as very chillingly described in the Panorama documentary ‘Are You Scared Yet, Human?’ a few weeks ago. Another major issue is joblessness. People are naturally worried about the effect further mechanisation is going to have on jobs. Despite assurances that the robot workers in car factories, for example, have created as many jobs as they’ve replaced or more, it’s been predicted that 2/3 of all jobs, particularly in retail, will be lost to technology in the coming decades. It looks frighteningly like the employment situation in Judge Dredd’s MegaCity 1, where, thanks to robots, 95 per cent of the population is permanently unemployed.

In this video, Belfield concentrates on another issue, loneliness. He points out that many people, especially older people, go to the shops because their lonely. These people are going to be made even lonelier by the lack of human contact with shop staff in these places. And this is apart from the fact that not everyone – again, particularly older people – don’t have mobiles or the other gadgets that will supposedly allow the stores’ computers automatically to make the transactions when you use them.

I’m not a fan of self-service tills for the same reason, although I admit that I do use them if there’s a queue. And to be fair, they’ve also been denounced by the Daily Mail, which called them ‘Daleks’ and demanded a return to human service staff when they first came out. I’ve therefore got absolutely no problem with putting this video from the mad right-winger up. He’s saying something that both left and right should agree on.

I’m also sceptical about these stores’ chances for survival. People need contact with other humans, and those businesses that have tried to remove them completely in favour of robots have come crashing down. A few years ago a Japanese businessman proudly opened a hotel operated by robots. There were robots on the welcome desk, including an animatronic dinosaur. I think your luggage was taken to your room by an automatic trolley, and you got your meals from a vending machine. A few months or a year or so later, the whole idea came crashing down. No-one wanted to stay. When journalists interviewed some of the few guests that actually stayed there, they said that it was actually very lonely. There were no other humans about, apart from the maintenance and ancillary staff. At a much less elevated level, a Spanish brothel that had opened with sex robots rather than human sex workers also closed.

It also reminds me of an episode of the revamped X-Files when that came back briefly a few years ago. This had Mulder and Scully eating in an similar automatic restaurant. Problems start when one or the other of them is unable to pay their bill. The automatic till demands payment, which for some reason isn’t going through. The machines working in the kitchen behave ominously. The two paranormal sleuths leave without paying, but they’re followed to their homes by a flock of angry drones. Meanwhile, their phones are continuing to demand the payment they owe the restaurant. Their fully automated, computerised homes start to disobey them and behave awkwardly. The domestic robots also start rebelling. And it looks like the duo will be on the receiving end of the anger of a full-scale robot attack force. Fortunately, this is stopped by one of the two finally getting the payment to go through. It ends with Mulder writing on his report that it matters how we treat our machines. Because how we do will determine how they will treat us in turn. It’s another example of Science Fiction as ‘the literature of warning’ and the threat of the machines taking over. But it does seem to be a reasonable treatment of the fears that such fully automated restaurants and stores provoke, as well as the frustration that occurs when the technology that takes your payment doesn’t actually work. I doubt that Tesco’s stores will automatically send squads of robot warriors after customers who have similar problems. But there will be problems when the machines make mistakes, and don’t charge people for the goods they’ve bought, or charge them the wrong amount, or otherwise go wrong. Which could lead to perfectly innocent people being wrongly accused of shoplifting.

Belfield is right about the threat posed by Tesco’s brave new stores without tills or attendant humans. This will lead to further unemployment, and a lonelier, more alienated society.

Mad Right-Winger Alex Belfield Attacks GB News as Based in France and Part of Murdoch Empire

June 1, 2021

This is very interesting. Alex Belfield, the mad right-wing internet radio host, who believes the lockdown should be immediately lifted, hates the immigrants coming over from France in their dinghies, and wants the NHS to be handed over to private management, apart from other high Tory policies and talking points, has just posted up a video today laying into GB News. This is supposed to be the patriotic, private news station, fronted by former editor of the Economist, the Scotsman and the Sunset Times, now head of the company in charge of the alt-right Spectator, Andrew Neil.

And this is Belfield’s first criticism of the station. Neil lives in France, and will be broadcasting from across the Channel. Which looks very bad for a company claiming to be Great Britain News, the patriotic alternative to the ‘wet, woke BBC’. The claim is that Neil has been stranded across La Manche because of the lockdown, although Belfield points out that he’s probably there since the weather’s warmer and the food and wine better. In fact, Neil’s been living in France for years. When he was editing one of the papers he used to hold the morning’s editorial meetings via Speakerphone, which caused the staff no end of embarrassment and doubtless hilarity when they are the sounds of Brillo struggling with his dog, Napoleon, which bit him.

But a more important criticism is in the second half of this video. Belfield points out that GB is not patriotic. It’s part of a multinational, the Murdoch empire. And while its broadcasters will tell us – he means fellow right-wingers like himself – what they want to hear, they aren’t us and are not on our side.

Quite.

This is what the Left and even some Tories have been saying since forever and a day. When Murdoch made moves to buy the Times in the late ’70s or early ’80s, there were Tories who objected to its acquisition by the smut merchant who has ruined journalism and coarsened culture across the civilised world. But Thatcher wanted his support, and so gave in to his request. As did her intellectual heir in the Labour party, Tony Blair, and now the Tory administrations of Cameron, Tweezer and BoJob.

There are of course solutions to the problems of the multinationals. These are to nationalise the utilities to make sure that they receive proper investment and work to serve the British public, rather than provide profits for their foreigner owners and management; end the offshore shell companies which allow the superrich to avoid paying tax; and pass legislation preventing foreigners owning British papers. This is what the Americans did in their country, and its why Murdoch moved to America and took out American citizenship in order to retain Fox News and other parts of his empire over there.

But all this is anathema to the elite who run our country and political parties, who are neoliberals to the core and have personal interests in many of these firms. This includes Keir Starmer, who wants to return the Labour party to being the servant of wealthy, corporate donors rather than a party for ordinary working people.

But in the meantime, this video is interesting as it shows that Belfield is aware that something is seriously wrong with globalisation. He just thinks that somehow it can be resolved within laissez-faire capitalism.

Book on Anti-Capitalism

May 29, 2021

Simon Tormey, Anti-Capitalism: A Beginner’s Guide (London: One World, revised edition 2013).

Like many people, I’ve been doing some reading during the lockdown. I found this in one of the mail order book catalogues I get, and ordered it as it looked interesting. I got through the post the other day. It was first published in 2004 and was republished in a revised edition nine years later. The blurb for it on the back runs

The financial crisis, bank bailouts, and the dash to austerity have breathed new life into protest movements across the globe, and brought anti-capitalist ideas into the mainstream. But what does it mean to be anti-capitalist? And where is anti-capitalism going – if anywhere?

Simon Tormey explores these questions and more in the only accessible introduction to the full spectrum of anti-capitalist ideas and politics. With nuance and verve, he introduces the reader to the wide variety of positions and groups that make up the movement, including anarchists, Marxists, autonomists, environmentalists, and more. Providing essential global and historical context, Tormey takes us from the 1968 upsurge of radical politics to the 1994 Zapatista insurrection, the 1999 Seattle protests, and right up to Occupy and the uprisings across the Eurozone.

This is a fascinating and bold exploration of how to understand the world – and how to change it.

A biographical note states that Tormey is a political theorist based in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Sydney. He was the founding director of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice at the University of Nottingham.

The book has an introduction and the following chapters:

  1. The Hows and Whys of Capitalism
  2. Anti-Capitalism after the ‘End of History’
  3. A ‘movement of movements’1: ‘reformism’, or ‘globalisation with a human face’
  4. A ‘movement of movements’ II: renegades, radicals and revolutionaries
  5. The Future(s) of Anti-Capitalism: Problems and Perspectives

There is a timeline of contemporary anti-capitalism, a glossary of key terms, thinkers and movements, and a list of resources.

Although the book was published eight years ago, I think it’s still going to be very relevant. The world may have been in lockdown for the past year with governments supporting their economies, but the Tories have neither gone away nor changed their stripes. It’s been pointed out that they never let a crisis go to waste. Once the lockdown is lifted, they’ll revert back to cutting the welfare state, privatising the NHS and with further attacks on workers’ rights, increasing job insecurity and lowering wages. We will need to organise again and resist them. The book’s short at 181 pages, excluding the index, but it looks like a very useful and necessary contribution to combating neoliberalism and the poverty and misery it is inflicting on working people across the globe.

Bath Landlord Throws Starmer Out of His Pub

April 19, 2021

The right-wing press have been all over this story like a bad rash and put their videos of the incident up on YouTube, including the Scum, the Heil and mad right-wing internet radio host Alex Belfield. It has also been on the local news. Starmer was out in the Georgian city trying meeting and greeting the general public for the mayoral and council elections next month. One member of the public he met was a very angry pub landlord. The publican was mad at the way the country had been locked down and the economy handicapped because of the Coronavirus. He showed Starmer a graph and quoted stats, which he said came from the British Medical Journal, that the average age of death was 82 years, whilst previously it had been 81. Or something like that. Thanks to the lockdown, he claimed we have the highest levels of debt since 2008. He then said that the country’s economy’s been destroyed to prevent old people from dying. He gave the graph to Starmer, who in the clip I’ve seen put up by Belfield in his video on it, shows Starmer apparently walking away with it unable to reply. The landlord described himself as ‘gracefully incandescent’. He then became absolutely furious because Starmer tried to enter the pub. The landlord told him he was not wanted in his pub, and tried to throw him out. At which one of Starmer’s goons stood in front of the man and kept advancing until the poor fellow was pushed back down the stairs to one of his other bars. Starmer and his part then left the pub to not a few raised eyebrows and doubtless comments from some of the drinkers outside.

Belfield says in his video that this has ended Starmer’s career and made the Labour party unelectable. He’s forgotten that he’s a public servant, and has acted in an entitled, thuggish manner. Just like all of the politicians, including ‘Worzel’ Boris Johnson. Well, as a man of the right, Belfield naturally hates Starmer and the Labour party, and he very strongly and vocally opposes the lockdown. He has also been saying many times in his videos that Starmer and Labour are finished, because they aren’t an opposition.

This is a story that I find particularly interesting, as Bath’s only a few miles from my part of South Bristol, and I worked there a long time ago. It’s a beautiful city, but like towns everywhere it does have its problems. Way back in the 1980s they had riots. Because it’s a major British tourist attraction, it’s a very expensive to live in. I certainly don’t share the landlord’s views on the lockdown. The elderly have the same right to life as everyone else, and while they may be the principal victims of the Coronavirus, we’ve seen that they aren’t the only victims. It has also disproportionately affected Blacks, Asians and ethnic minorities, as well as the disabled. Over the past year we’ve seen dedicated health professionals killed by this terrible disease, and BoJob was hospitalized because of it, though whether there was actually any danger of it carrying the vile liar off is moot. But the landlord isn’t alone in his views. The local news in Bristol and the surrounding area have featured other pub landlords and small business people talking about how they’ve been hit by the lockdown. As the pubs have just been tentatively allowed to reopen, it was almost to be expected that Starmer would be faced with questions about its necessity. Belfield states that instead of trying to enter the pub without the landlord’s permission, he should simply have sat down with him and debated the topic. But it seems he didn’t. I do wonder why he wasn’t able to do so. Senior politicos at his level have people to brief them, but either they didn’t or Starmer ignored them.

I also wonder why he tried going into the pub if he was unable to answer the landlord or discuss it with him. If I’d been in his position, I think I would have politely thanked him for sharing his opinion and then moved on. After all, a cold or hostile reception from a member of the public is an occupational hazard for every politician. Some of us can still remember the video of Tweezer being politely told ‘No, thank you’, when she tried campaigning on a street in Scotland. And some of us can remember the Scum’s gloating article about an old lady hitting Arthur Scargill with a tin when he was speaking somewhere during the miners’ strike. My great-grandfather was a member of the Fabian Society, who used to speak at Speaker’s Corner in one of Bristol’s parks. My gran told me how he was also abused and had objects thrown at him. But for some weird reason, Starmer doesn’t know how to handle the public.

Unfortunately, Belfield is right about him. He’s a terrible political leader. He doesn’t oppose the government but then, I don’t think that was why the Blairites in the party wanted him elected. He was put in power to secure the party for the neoliberal right. Hence the purge of socialists and people, who hold the traditional, genuine Labour values and policies – strong welfare state, and unions, a mixed economy and a nationalised NHS that supplies universal treatment free at the point of delivery. Instead, he’s an opportunist who has no fixed policies and has broken his electoral promises to keep the genuinely popular policies that were in Labour’s manifesto last year. He and the NEC have attacked and undermined democracy in the Labour party itself. That’s shown not just in his purge of left-wingers, but also in his arrogant, arbitrary decision to bar the local party activists and politicos in Liverpool from standing for selection as Labour’s candidate for mayor of that great city. It was extremely high-handed and no explanation was given why the eminently suitable ladies, who had come forward, could not stand. The NEC had simply ruled, and could not be questioned.

All suggests that Starmer is personally dictatorial, who is absolutely unable to cope with not having his own way. If he can’t get it, he rides roughshod over people. And it’s not just his party members, but also the ordinary public, if his treatment of the pub landlord is anything to go by.

I fear Labour will take a very definite pounding in the elections next month because of Starmer’s incompetence and arrogant, entitled attitude. That’s going to be a disaster for the party and for the country, as it means that the Tories will be able to carry on with their horrific policies without an effective check. There are many principled, effective politicos in the party at both the national and local level, who are serious about representing their communities and restoring pride and prosperity to our great country and its awesome working people.

But they, and we, are going to be punished because of the sheer ineptitude, gracelessness and arrogance of Starmer.

By all rights, he should go, but I am very much afraid he, like the Blairites in general, will hang on, even if it means destroying the party.

Tories Now Want to Set Up Privately Run ‘Secure Schools’

April 10, 2021

This is really alarming, considering the appalling record of the outsourcing giants running the privatised prisons. Mike put up a piece yesterday suggesting a possible reason for Gavin Williamson’s absurd statement that pupils’ behaviour had got worse during the lockdown and absence from school. Mike and myself both noted that there was zero evidence for this. In fact a friend of mine, who is a school governor, believed the children at her school were actually better behaved. And it seems this friend isn’t alone. Mike put up a series of quotes from people in education saying very clearly that children’s behaviour hadn’t deteriorated. One of them even said it had improved. Williamson’s statement is thus pure nonsense.

But there is a possible explanation for it in the Tories’ proposed change to the school system, which in fact is a further expansion of the prison-industrial complex. He wants to introduce privately run ‘secure schools’. This sounds to many concerned educationalists like the return of the Young Offenders Institutions. One of those, who oppose this plan, is Zahra Bei, who fears that they will be a ‘fast track to prison’. The Tories have said that they won’t be ‘prisons with education’, but I really don’t put much faith in that considering the Tories appalling record of lying as easily as most people breathe. Private companies have so far been excluded from running such schools, but the government wants to reform this legislation so that they can do so under the guise of charities. This seems to me to be already a scandalous disaster in waiting, considering the mess companies like G4S, Serco and the rest of them have made of running adult prisons and migrant detention centres. It was only a few years ago that conditions in privately run prisons were so appalling that the prisoners were rioting. Private Eye has also run any number of stories in its ‘Footnotes’ or ‘In The Back Column’ about the tragic deaths of young people put in adult prisons, either by their own hand or murdered by their fellow inmates. The Tory plan to start building privately run prison schools seems to me to threaten the further deaths of vulnerable young people. And this is quite apart from the horrors of their predecessors, as depicted in films like Scum.

But I can see more children being unjustly sentenced to these places as the government and the companies running them want to turn a profit and give a nice, fat dividend to the shareholders. The ‘capped crusader’ Michael Moore gave an example of such a glaring miscarriage of justice in his documentary Capitalism – A Love Story. This was the case of a teenage American girl, who was sentenced to a spell in prison. The girl had committed a trivial offence. I can’t remember what it was – it may have been simply bunking off school or underage drinking. It certainly wasn’t anything more serious. It was the kind of crime which over here would be have been punished with a small fine or so many hours community service. Or simply being grounded by her parents and having her playstation taken away for the duration. But no, the beak decided that she was such a dangerous delinquent, that only a spell in the slammer would deter her from a life of crime. Well, actually, not quite. The real reason was that the judge was on the payroll of the private company running the prison. Their profits depend on people being put in them. Hence the incentive for the esteemed lawman to put a teenage girl behind bars.

And I’m afraid the same will happen here. Williamson’s comments about the bad behaviour of all those children coming back to school seems set to prime public opinion for it. The Tories are past masters at exploiting the public’s fear of rising crime, especially by the young. Children haven’t become worse behaved because of the lockdown. In fact, Mike’s probably right when he says that they may even have become more self-disciplined because of it. But Williamson needs people to believe that children’s behaviour has got worse, so that he then has a pretext for locking them up in his new, shiny, privately run educational prisons.

When they run the risk of really getting set on a career as a crime and a lifetime in prison, or brutalised by the staff employed by private companies running the schools or the other inmates, with the dreadful prospect that some will either commit suicide or be killed by the others. Bei has said that the majority of people put in these wretched schools will be young, Black, poor and disabled. That’s a certainty, given that the prison population is generally composed of the poor and those from ethnic minorities. The number of female prisoners in the UK is comparatively small – 4,000 women compared to 80,000 or so men. But women in prison can be particularly vulnerable, especially as the majority of them aren’t violent. It’s been claimed that many of the women currently banged up are for crimes like failure to pay their TV license. But I can imagine a number of girls getting sentenced to these schools as part of Williamson’s campaign to stamp out the entirely imaginary tide of school-age crime he wants us to think is coming.

Tory Flag-Waving Now Reaching Reaganite Proportions

April 6, 2021

Patriotism, someone once said, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. And the Tories have done their best to show how true this is, especially last week when it seemed that they wasted no opportunity to wave the flag. This also led them to generate more synthetic outrage towards the BBC. Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty raised Tory ire when Stayt joked about the relatively small size of the union flag on display during an interview with Matt Hancock or one of the other Tory ministers. This led to howls from the Tory press that the Beeb was sneering at the flag. They weren’t. They were laughing about the Tory’s sheer opportunistic use of it.

It’s no accident that they’ve started waving the flag in the weeks running up to the local elections. Their performance on health, the economy, Brexit and just about everything else has been dire. They’re still trying to privatise the health service by stealth, they insulted the nurses with a 2 per cent pay rise, which is in real terms a cut in their salaries, wages are still frozen, more people are being forced into real, grinding poverty, the queues at the food banks are as long as ever, or longer. The Brexit that Boris has been so desperate to ‘get done’ is spelling disaster for Britain’s manufacturing industry, and businesses dealing with the continent and ordinary Brits wishing to travel abroad are now faced with mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy. Bureaucracy which the Brexiteers blithely assured us wouldn’t happen. Hopefully this year will see us coming out of lockdown and the Coronavirus crisis. We’ve a far higher rate of peeps receiving the vaccine than the EU, but that shouldn’t distract attention from the colossal way the Tories have mismanaged the Covid crisis as a whole. As Mike’s pointed out in one of his articles, Tory bungling and corruption – they gave vital medical contracts to companies owned and run by their friends and supporters, rather than to firms that could actually deliver – that over 100,000 people have died of the disease. One of the good peeps on Twitter has shown how this compares to the numbers killed in some of the genocides and ethnic massacres that have plagued recent decades. And the report, which was supposed to show that Britain isn’t institutionally racist, has been torn to shreds with some of the academics cited claiming they were not properly consulted and seeking to distance themselves from it. And then there are the mass demonstrations up and down the land against their attempts to outlaw any demonstration or protest they don’t like under the guise that it would be a nuisance.

And so, with all this discontent, they’ve fallen back to Thatcher’s tactics of waving the flag at every opportunity. One of the hacks at the Absurder in the 1980s said that Britain had three parties – the patriotic party, who were the Tories, the loony party, which was Labour, and the sensible party, which was the SDP/Liberals. Which showed you the paper’s liberal bias even then. The SDP, Liberals and their successors, the Lib Dems. have sold out utterly, while after four decades of Thatcherism Michael Foot’s Labour party looks far less than loony. But the hack was right about the Tories and patriotism. Thatcher waved the flag as frantically as she could and constantly invoked the spirit of Winston Churchill and World War II. One particularly memorable example of this was the Tory 1987 election broadcast, which featured Spitfires zipping about the sky while an overexcited voice told the world ‘Man was born free’ and concluded ‘It’s great to be great again’.

Here’s another feature of Fascism that’s been adopted by the Tories to add to those on Mike’s checklist. Fascism is an ideology of national rebirth and revival. Thatcher was claiming she was making us great again, just as Donald Trump claimed he was doing for America. Just as Oswald Mosley called one of his wretched books The Greater Britain. And unfortunately, as Zelo Street has also pointed out, Fascists like the Nazis have also used people’s natural loyalty to their flag as a means of generating support for their repulsive regimes. British Fascism was no different. Mosley also made great use of the flag at his rallies, and this tactic was taken over by his successors in the National Front and BNP. This has been an embarrassment to ordinary, non-racist Brits, who simply like the flag. One of my friends at school was a mod. At the time, the union flag and British bulldog formed a large part of mod imagery without meaning that the person was a racist or White supremacist. During one of the art lessons my friend started painting a picture with those two elements – the union flag and bulldog. The teacher came over and politely asked him not to do so, as he was afraid people would like at it and come to the wrong conclusion. This was just after the 1981/2 race riots, so you can understand why. But it is frustrating and infuriating that ordinary expressions of reasonable patriotism or simple pop culture iconography have become suspect due to their appropriation by the Far Right.

But the real excesses of flag-waving were to be seen over the other side of the Pond in Reagan’s America. Reagan was wrecking his country with privatisation and an assault on what the country had in the way of a welfare state, while murdering the people of countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua by supporting Fascist dictators and their death squads. But, like Thatcher, he did everything he could to use the symbols of American nationhood. Like the Stars and Stripes. A Republican party political broadcast in 1984 or thereabouts showed the American flag being raised no less than 37 times. This was so bizarrely excessive that one of the Beeb’s foreign correspondents commented on it. As far as I am aware, no-one took him to task for sneering at it.

This flag-waving is part of the Tories attempts to present themselves as the preservers of British national identity, tradition and pride against the assaults of the left, particularly Black Lives Matter and their attacks on statues. I’m not impressed with the attacks on some of the monuments, like that of Winston Churchill, even though he was a racist. But in Bristol the only statue attacked was that of the slavery and philanthropist Edward Colston. None of the other statues in and around Bristol’s town centre of Edmund Burke, Queen Victoria, Neptune and the sailors who made my city a great port, were touched. And then there was the protest last week against the new school uniform policy at Pimlico Academy in London. This ruled out the wearing of large afro hair styles. So the students started protesting it was racist. The headmaster also raised the union flag, which led the statement from one of the students, Amna Mukhtar, that it weirdly felt like they were being colonised. And then some idiot burnt the flag in protest. The headmaster has now rescinded the school’s uniform code and taken the flag down. Now I gather that one of the Tories is now calling for every school to fly the union flag.

It all reminds me of the comments the late, great comedian Bill Hicks made when Reagan and his supporters were flying the flag and their outrage when a young member of the Communist party burned it. After making jokes about the Reaganite rage and hysteria, Hicks said that he didn’t want anyone to burn the flag, but burning wouldn’t take away freedom, because it’s freedom. Including the freedom to burn the flag.

Quite. And the Tories are wrecking our country and taking away our freedoms while cynically waving the flag.

So when they start spouting about it, use your scepticism and think of Hick’s comment instead. And vote for someone else.

Wishing All My Readers A Happy Easter

April 4, 2021

This is just to wish everyone a Happy Easter. Whether you’re Christian or not, I hope everyone here has a great Easter bank holiday, despite the lockdown and the Tory government.

Disabled Girl Gets Bionic Arms Based on Movie ‘Alita’s’ Heroine

April 3, 2021

Okay, I’m sorry I haven’t put anything up for the past week or so. It’s the usual reasons, I’m afraid: I’ve been busy with other things and for the most part, I simply haven’t found the week’s news inspiring. I felt there was precious little I could add to the excellent coverage and analyses given by Mike and Zelo Street. And so, rather than simply repeating what they had to say, I preferred to keep silent. But there are some stories that do need further comment, and I certainly intend to cover them. But before I do, here’s a more positive, rather heartwarming piece I found on YouTube.

It was put up by the tech company, Open Bionics, which makes state of the art, and very stylish, prosthetic limbs. Narrated by Hollywood director James Cameron, it tells how the company created a pair of superb artificial arms for British teenager Tilly Lockey. Lockey had lost her arms from septicaemia caused by meningitis. But, as Cameron shows, she had never let her disability hold her back, and the video shows Ms. Lockey as a junior school girl painting using an artificial arm. Cameron’s best known as the director of such hits as Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2, Avatar and Titanic, but he was also the producer of the film Alita – Battle Angel. Based on the Manga of the same name, Alita is the story of a mysterious cyborg girl, found by a doctor rummaging around the rubbish dump below an airborne city in which Earth’s rich and powerful live, far above ordinary masses, who live in the city below it. The doctor repairs the girl, who has lost her memory. Slowly Alita begins to recover bits of her history, joins the other cyborg players in a murderous sports race, attempts to become one of the cyborg warriors fighting crime and evil in this future world, and is forced to confront the villains controlling this new society from the floating city above it.

Cameron points out that cybernetic limbs are expensive, but the company is working to make them affordable. They’re also trying to make them attractive, which is why they’ve based those they’ve give to Tilly on the arms of Alita’s heroine. As well as getting the arms, the girl also got to attend the film’s premier.

I have a feeling Open Bionics might be based in Bristol. If I’m right, they used to be part of the cybernetics lab at the University of the West of England, which has done some impressive robotics research. The lab set up a commercial company to produce artificial limbs based on characters from Science Fiction movies.

As for Alita, I think it got mixed reviews. Some critics were spooked by the character’s large eyes, but I think that was simply following the artistic conventions of Manga comics and translating it to a live action film. Some critics said that while it wasn’t that good, it was actually far better than some of the rubbish being produced by Hollywood at the time. I’ve got it on video and liked it. There are rumours of a sequel being made, which would be great if they were true. But unfortunately the Coronavirus lockdown has meant that many Hollywood projects have had to be put on hold. The release of Denis Villeneuve’s much-awaited version of Dune has been postponed to October, when hopefully the cinemas will re-open.

The video’s obviously a piece of corporate promotion, but it’s great that the company and its talented engineers are working to make technologically impressive artificial limbs at affordable prices, and that they’ve given them to this spirited young lady. I have a feeling she’s also one of the women featured on the Shake My Beauty YouTube channel, which features other disabled women talking about life with their prosthetic limbs. While also demonstrating that having mechanical arms and legs certainly doesn’t make them less beautiful or capable of enjoying normal, physical activities including sports.