Posts Tagged ‘Middle Class’

80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

May 26, 2020

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Two

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Trade Unions

He discusses the unions, which he describes as ‘proletarian capitalists’. They are there to protect the workers, who have to sell their labour just as the businessman has to sell the product they create. Unions are there to ensure the workers are able to charge the highest price they can for their labour. He also discusses strikes and lockouts, including the violence of some industrial disputes. Scabs need police protection against being beaten, and angry workers will tamper with the equipment so that anyone using it will be injured. They will also place fulminate of mercury in chimneys to cause an explosion if someone starts up the furnaces.

Party Politics and Socialism

Shaw describes the class conflict between the Tories, representing the aristocracy, and the Liberals, who represented the industrial middle classes. These competed for working class votes by extending the franchise and passing legislation like the Factory Acts to improve working conditions. However, each was as bad the other. The aristocracy kept their workers in poverty in the countryside, while the middle classes exploited them in the factories. The laws they passed for the working poor were partly designed to attack their opponents of the opposite class.

He goes on to give a brief history of British socialism, beginning with Marx, William Morris’ Socialist League, and Hyndeman’s Social Democratic Federation. These were small, middle class groups, disconnected from the British working class through their opposition to trade unions and the cooperatives. It was only when British socialism combined with them under Keir Hardie and the Independent Labour Party that socialism became a real force in working class politics. The Fabian Society has been an important part of this, and has made socialism respectable so that the genteel middle classes may join it as Conservatives join their Constitutional Club.

Shaw believed that socialism would advance, simply because of the numerical supremacy of the working classes, and that soon parliament would be full of Labour MPs. However, he also recognised that many members of the proletariat were anti-Socialist. This is because they depended for their livelihood on the businesses serving the idle rich. He called this section of the working class the ‘parasitic proletariat’. The working class is also distracted away from socialism through lotteries and so on.

Democratic, Parliamentary Socialism and Nationalisation

Shaw argues strongly that socialism could only be established through democratic, parliamentary action. General strikes wouldn’t work, as the employers would simply starve the workers out. The strikes intended to stop the outbreak of the First World War had failed the moment the first bomb dropped killing babies. Violent revolutions were purely destructive. Apart from the human lives lost, they destroyed the country’s vital industrial and economic structure. Socialism needed to build on this, not destroy it. Similarly, confiscating the capitalists’ wealth, either directly through nationalisation without compensation, or by taxing capital, was also counterproductive. The capitalists would simply sell their shares or unwillingly surrender them. The result would be bankruptcy and mass unemployment. This would result in further working class unrest, which would end in a counterrevolution.

The only way socialism could proceed would be by long preparation. You should only nationalise an industry once there was a suitable government department to run it. Compensation should be given to the former proprietors. This did not mean robbing the workers to pay their former exploiters, as the money would come from taxing the upper classes so that the class as a whole would be slightly worse off than before, even though the former owners were slightly better off.  You can see here and in Shaw’s warning of the ineffectiveness of general strikes the bitterness that still lingered amongst the working class after the failure of the General Strike of the 1920s.

Nationalisation could also only be done through parliament. There were, however, problems with parliamentary party politics. If the socialist party grew too big, it would split into competing factions divided on other issues, whose squabbles would defeat the overall purpose. Party politics were also a hindrance, in that it meant that one party would always oppose the policies of the other, even though they secretly supported them, because that was how the system worked. We’ve seen it in our day when the Tories before the 2010 election made a great show of opposing Blair’s hospital closures, but when in power did exactly the same and worse. Shaw recommends instead that the political process should follow that of the municipalities, where party divisions were still high, but where the process of legislation was done through committees and so on parties were better able to cooperate.

Limited Role for Capitalism

Shaw also argued against total nationalisation. He begins the book by stating that socialists don’t want to nationalise personal wealth. They weren’t going to seize women’s jewels, nor prevent a woman making extra cash for herself by singing in public or raising prize chrysanthemums, although it might in time be considered bad form to do so. Only big, routine businesses would be nationalised. Small businesses would be encouraged, as would innovatory private companies, though once they became routine they too would eventually be taken over by the state.

It’s a great argument for a pluralistic mixed economy, of the type that produced solid economic growth and working class prosperity after World War II, right up to 1979 and Thatcher’s victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part One

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Introduction

This is a great book. It’s the kind of book on socialism I was very much looking for in the 1980s when the papers were all praising Margaret Thatcher and alleged superiority of capitalism to the heavens. What I wanted then was a classic defence of socialism, which clearly showed the destructive nature and defects of capitalism, and how these would be removed for the better under a proper socialist government with a clear idea of what needed to be done and how it could be achieved.

This is a rather long review, so I’ve split up into four parts.

The book was written between 1924 and 1928, when it was first published. George Bernard Shaw is one of the great figures in British socialism. An Irishman, he was one of the founders of the Fabian Society along with Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and editor of its anthology of socialist writings, Fabian Essays. He’s best known for his play Pygamalion, about a linguist, Henry Higgins, who takes Eliza, a rough working class girl, and tries to mould her so she can pass as a lady of the genteel classes. It was filmed as the musical My Fair Lady, starring Rex Harrison.

Shaw wrote it between 1924 and 1928, when it was published, at the request of his sister-in-law, Lady Cholmondley. She had asked him to write a letter explaining socialism for women. Shaw looked into it, and discovered that amongst the masses of literature about socialism, there weren’t any books that realised that there were such creatures. And, he adds in his ‘Instead of a Bibliography’, very few that recognised the existence of men either. The book’s addressed to a female audience. The reader is a ‘she’ and the examples given are taken from women’s lives, jobs and experience. Shaw recognises that most women are occupied as wives and mothers, or shop girls and workers in the great weaving mills, the common female roles at the time. But he also recognises and fully supports the fact that more professions were being opened up to women in science, law, medicine and so on. If done badly, this approach by a male writer can seem patronising, but Shaw, as a great writer, manages to avoid it. And even though it’s aimed at women, I greatly enjoyed it, and would recommend it to other blokes.

Capital, Equality of Incomes and Imperialism

Shaw tries to present complex ideas about capitalism by simplifying them down to the level of ordinary people’s housekeeping or domestic economy. He defines capital as left over money. It’s the money you have left after spending your income on rent, food and so on. This is the money that the idle rich, the landlords, invest in industry. And money’s only real value is for the food and clothing that it will purchase. You cannot eat money, and the food it will buy must be eaten or else it will be spoilt. Which means that money must be invested and used, rather than stored up.

At the heart of Shaw’s view of socialism is the equalization of incomes. He believed that everyone should earn exactly the same amount. Capitalism had created vast inequalities of wealth. On the one hand there was a small minority of the idle rich, who had to invent pastimes and diversions in order to use up their wealth. On the other was the vast mass of the poor, living at or near starvation level. He begins by asking the reader how they would divide up the nation’s wealth, challenging the reader to think for herself rather than let him do her thinking for her. He then proceeds to argue that it is impossible to decide that one person should be paid more or less than another because of their personal morality or ability. He sharply criticises the quasi-feudal economy of his day, when 90 per cent of the country worked to support the gentry, who only comprised ten per cent of the country’s population. They do nothing for it, don’t benefit from it, as they can’t personally eat or drink more than anyone else. And instead of investing it, they simply take it out of the country to invest it or spend it abroad. He also attacks British imperialism for this same thing. It hasn’t benefited the peoples we have conquered nor British tradespeople, businessmen and workers. It has led to the exploitation of Blacks abroad, who can paid far less than their British counterparts. Thus Britain is flooded with cheap imports, and British companies are going bust and their workers laid off.

The Progress of Capitalism and Decline of the Businessman Owner

Shaw then describes how the middle class have their origins as the younger sons of the aristocracy, with a few acute remarks on the absurd gradations of class which meant that a wholesaler was socially superior to a retailer. His father was a businessman, who had been a member of the gentry. As such he looked down on the elite Dublin shopkeepers, even though they were richer and entertained the local Irish aristocracy, which he very definitely couldn’t. But business was changing. The age of the small businessman in personal possession of his business, was giving way to joint-stock companies owned by their shareholders and managed by professional, salaried staff. Under pressure from the unions, they were combining to  form monopolistic trusts. This made them ready for nationalisation.

Nationalisation and the Coal Industry

He presents the coal industry as particularly needing nationalisation. At the time he wrote, there were a number of different mining companies. Some worked poor mines and were close to bankruptcy, others very rich. However, miners wages were set at the level the poor mines could afford, which was near starvation. Coal prices were set for the rich mines, and so prices were high. The miners were thus being starved and the consumer overcharged. The mines should thus be nationalised so that the workers were paid a fair wage, and the consumer a fair price. Shaw advocated nationalisation so that costs and prices could be brought down and goods sold at cost price.

Banks and the Stock Market

He also discusses and explains finance capitalism, stocks and shares, debentures, futures and the stock market. He warns the reader against get-rich-quick scams, like the bucket shops which will charge his prices for very risky shares. If people want to invest, they should do so with the government or municipality. Their shares won’t provide a great yield, but they will be safe. He recommends that banks should be nationalised because of the problems the small businessman had acquiring capital. The big businesses rely on financiers, who certainly won’t lend the small businessman wanting a modest loan anything. Neither will the banks. He pointed to Birmingham as an example for the future, as it had established a municipal bank to serve the customers the big banks wouldn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labour and Trade Union Staffers Trying to Protect Anti-Black and Asian Racists

April 18, 2020

Here’s another scandal that’s erupted in the wake of the leak of the damning report showing how the Blairite faction in the Labour party deliberately intrigued against Corbyn and left-wing MPs and activists, even to the point of working for a thrown election. Now elements in the party and the union, GMB, are trying to protect anti-Black and Asian racists.

Mike put up a piece on Thursday reporting that the suppressed document also stated that the Black MPs, Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler and Clive Lewis, had been victims of racism and racial profiling. A video conference meeting apparently confirmed this, supporting a motion that said that the report had highlighted damning examples of casual workplace racism at the highest levels of the party, and showed how racism against Black, Asian and ethnic minority members were ignored. The meeting called for letters of solidarity to be sent to Abbott, Butler and Lewis.

This was, however, blocked by Labour Party staffers, with one staffer named in the report claiming that it didn’t happen, and to send the letters would be an admission of guilt. Gabriel Pogrund, the Sunday Times hack who libeled Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, further reported that a motion was put before the Labour Branch of the union GMB demanding that General Secretary Jennie Formby should personally apologise to the members named in the report. Furthermore, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis also promised his protection to two of his senior staffers named in the report as plotting against Corbyn. They’re probably Emilie Oldknow and John Stolliday.

Mike in his article asks if these are the same people, who were happy to demand the persecution and expulsion of left-wing members, like Mike, because of false press reports. He states that if so, they are not acting in good faith and their memberships should already have been suspended. He also asks whether it’s time for vote of ‘no confidence’.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/04/16/responses-to-leaked-labour-report-shows-the-party-and-unions-must-kick-out-the-racists/

This squalid incident shows the double standard within the Labour party and wider society between racism towards Jews and people of colour. Tony Greenstein has pointed out in his incisive critiques of the anti-Semitism smears how racism against Jews is given a higher profile and harsher condemnation than that against Blacks and Asians. Jews are generally less subject to racist abuse and assault. They are not subject to stop and search, nor targeted for deportation. They aren’t rounded up to be put on flights to supposed countries of origin, which they may never have seen in their lives, like the Windrush migrants. At the other end of the political spectrum, Times parliamentary sketch writer Quentin Letts has made a very similar point. In his book Bog-Standard Britain, Letts argues that there is a hierarchy of respect and power of minorities. Jews are either at the top, or near to it. Blacks, Asians and Muslims lower down or at the bottom.

Some of this inequality can be explained as an entirely understandable reaction to the Holocaust. This has made anti-Jewish racism far less acceptable. It’s also perhaps due to the fact that the traditional European Jews are White and highly assimilated. The Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th century, was a reform movement within Judaism that attempted to adapt Jewish culture so that Jews could also participate in wider European society. The result of this has been that most European Jews are highly integrated. Except when wearing traditional Jewish garb, such as the kippah, most British Jews look, dress and behave exactly like their gentile compatriots. And they’re largely accepted by the great mass of British society as fellow Brits. Tony Greenstein stated that the majority of anti-Semitic abuse and violence was directed against Orthodox Jews, who obviously still retain a distinctive dress and are therefore ‘other’ in a way that Liberal and Reform Jews are not.

Class also plays a large part. Tony has also stated that 60 per cent of the British community is middle or upper middle class. They are therefore economically important and socially respectable in a way that other demographic groups are not.

This contrasts with Blacks and Asians, who are marked as different through their skin colouring. While Blacks and some Muslims have been present in Britain and western Europe from the Middle Ages, the majority are recent immigrants to these shores. Large sections of these communities have a distinctive dress and language, and are therefore more radically other than indigenous Jewish Brits. They are also more likely to be poorer and less well educated, and were used over here as cheap labour. These are generalisations, of course, and you can find exceptions to them. Chinese and Indians are like to be as affluent, educated and occupying the same ranks in the social hierarchy as Whites. Working class White boys are far less likely than the children of ethnic minority background to get good grades at school and progress to university. Blacks and Asians have also suffered their own holocausts, such as slavery and the Bengal famine of the War years, when Churchill ordered the sequestration of grain as backup supplies for British troops. The result was an estimated death toll of 2-6 million. Churchill refused to release the grain to feed the starving Indians, and blamed it on them having too many children. His attitude shocked many British officers and colonial administrators, who explicitly compared it to the Nazis.

But these atrocities are historic, and many of them took place far away from Blighty, so that the majority of Brits have never heard of them. Slavery was officially abolished in the British Empire in 1837, although the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured Indian labourers continued into the 20th century. The result is that racism towards Blacks and Asians is far more acceptable than anti-Semitism.

Which means that the people determined to unseat Corbyn were able to exaggerate the extent of real anti-Semitism in the Labour party for a right-wing political and media establishment to present as evidence that the Labour leader was a real, existential threat to Jews when he was absolutely nothing of the sort.

And now it seems that right-wing elements in the party are demonstrating their double standards by denying that anti-Black and Asian racism exists, and seeking to defend and protect those guilty.

Whatever they do, they’re still racists. They should be held to account and expelled, not apologised to.

 

Jewish Chronicle Folds – Real Fighters Against Racism and Anti-Semitism Not At All Bothered

April 9, 2020

Here’s a rather positive story from yesterday. According to Mike, the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News have been forced to close. They’re blaming the lockdown, which has also damaged News Corporation profits so much that Murdoch’s minions wrote pieces in his wretched rags begging the public to buy newspapers. Which is something else that is highly amusing. Critics of the Chronicle and its foul editor, Stephen Pollard, suggested that the real reason might be all the money it’s being forced to pay in damages to all the people it’s libeled. 

The Chronicle was a right-wing, Tory rag. Its editor, Pollard, has written various pieces across the years claiming that the left, trade unions and Muslims are serious threats to western civilisation. It’s a list that once a time included Jews. That’s changed, because British Jews, by and large, are very assimilated and generally, but not uniformly, prosperous. Sixty per cent of the Jewish population is middle and upper middle class. It’s that wealthy, Tory voting section of the British Jewish population that the Jewish Chronicle spoke for.

It was also fanatically pro-Israel, and so was one of the worst in libeling and smearing the country’s critics, pro-Palestinian activists and over the last few years, Jeremy Corbyn, his supporters and the Labour Party as a whole. This included Mike of Vox Political, who the Chronicle and a number of other papers, including the equally repulsive and loathsome Sunset Times, smeared as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Mike isn’t, never was, and never will be. Mike launched a successful appeal with IPSO, the press regulator, against those rags, and they were forced to print retractions. But this didn’t stop them continuing with their campaign of lies and smears against Labour.  Pollard’s spite wasn’t just reserved for those outside his newspaper’s staff. A few weeks ago he sacked long-time Chronicle contributor Prof. Geoffrey Alderman, an expert in British Jewish history. He gave no reason in his letter to Alderman telling him his services were no longer required, but many observers were in no doubt of the real reason. Alderman had committed the terrible crime of penning a piece in the Spectator stating that Corbyn wasn’t an anti-Semite but a friend to Jews. Pollard couldn’t tolerate the spectacle of the truth contradicting his smears. Alderman’s certainly no man of the left, and I think he’s a convinced Zionist. But this didn’t save him from Pollard’s wrath. Pollard himself isn’t Jewish, which led to the Chronicle’s  Jewish critics calling his thunderous exhortations to their community to support Israel ‘goysplaining’. In fact, critics of the smear campaign against critics of Israel, and Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, like Tony Greenstein have repeatedly pointed out that the Israel lobby is especially venomous towards Jews, who refuse to give their wholehearted and absolute support to a nation to which they do not belong, nor in many cases have ever been to.

Mike in his article reproduced the comments on Twitter from various people and organisations about the Chronicle’s collapse. And they had absolutely no regrets about the rag’s demise whatsoever because of its role in pushing the smears. In fact, they welcomed it. They included  organisations like the Jewish human rights group, Jews Sans Frontieres, Socialist Voice, and the newspaper/ site Dorset Eye. One commenter, John O’Connell, summed up the situation and said ‘What was once a proud and worthy voice for Jewish communities has in recent years become a Tories and Right Wing mouthpiece for Anti Myths and Rhetoric’.  Two of the people, Neil Clark and Andrew Feinstein, had been personally attacked and vilified by the Chronicle, and so weren’t sorry to see it go at all.

The people the Chronicle and the Jewish News smeared in their campaign of hate against Corbyn, the Labour Party and pro-Palestinian activists were decent, genuinely anti-racist people and opponents of anti-Semitism. The quality of British print journalism has been raised by their closure. Unfortunately, the rest of the scummy Tory press still seems to be going, though hopefully it won’t be too long before the Sunset Times and the Torygraph go the same way. It’s sad that some of the people being laid off will be ordinary, decent peeps, but the rag itself won’t be missed. However, as Nathaniel Gibbons pointed out, Pollard is now reduced to spouting his defamatory, racist bile in the Heil, Torygraph and Scum.

And Britain would only gain if those despicable rags followed the Chronicle into closure and liquidation.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/04/08/jewish-chronicle-to-close-with-staff-redundancies-the-quality-of-uk-media-has-improved/

Bhaskar Sunkara on Blair’s Devastation of the Labour Party

January 25, 2020

The papers and the media have been doing everything they can to attack the left-wing candidates in Labour’s leadership contest and puff the ‘moderates’. That has meant trying to discredit Rebecca Long-Bailey, the ‘continuity Corbyn’ candidate. She was the subject of a series of smears and untruths last weekend by the Tory press, in which it was claimed that she and her husband were millionaires and so on. At the same time, the remaining liberal papers, like the I, have been promoting candidates like Lisa Nandy. I’ve just heard someone from the Labour party, speaking on a Radio 4 news programme just now, make a few scornful comments about Long-Bailey. He remarked that it was surprising that Keir Starmer and Nandy were so far ahead, considering that the Corbynites had their hands on the centres of power in the party for three years. He was particularly sneering at Long-Bailey for saying that she gave Corbyn ’10 out of 10′. Corbyn, he stated, had lost three elections. And that was the point where I decided to put fingers to keyboard to make a few comments myself, and correct this fellow’s biased and misleading remarks.

For a start, I think Corbyn did exceedingly well, at least initially. The party had lost much of its membership under Blair and Brown. Corbyn managed to turn this around, so that it became the largest socialist party in Europe. Yes, he did lose three elections. But during one of those elections, even though he lost, he won an enormous number of seats from a  low starting point, so that it marked the most gains by the party in several years. And he did this despite massive opposition. This came from the Parliamentary Labour Party, a sizable number of whom were constantly intriguing against him, threatening coups and mass departures. These were aided by the media, including the increasingly far right and wretched Beeb, which did everything it could to smear and vilify Corbyn and his supporters. And then there was the unrepresentative organisations that pass themselves off as the Jewish establishment. These, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbinate, Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish press, did everything they could to smear Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites simply for making perfectly valid criticisms of Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

And from what I understand, Corbyn did not have his hands on the mechanisms of power. Or not completely. When he was first elected I was told by a friend that Corbyn had left himself in a very weak position by not purging the party bureaucracy. This was based on a piece he’d read in an online magazine. The bureaucracy were all Blairites, and had been expecting to be sacked. But Corbyn retained them, preferring instead to run his campaign from his own constituency office. If this is true, then he made a rod for his own back. It is certainly true that he had to struggle for control of the NEC and the Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, also did his best to undermine and discredit Corbyn at every opportunity. I don’t think any Labour leader could have won elections under these circumstances.

The press and the Labour centre – for whom, read ‘Thatcherite entryists’, are nostalgic for Blair, his neoliberal economic policies of privatisation, including NHS privatisation, and restructuring of the welfare state. New Labour under Blair and Brown was in power for 13 years, from 1997 to 2010. This was because they had the support of the mass media and big business, whom they rewarded with government posts. But their leadership decimated the party itself, and ultimately helped to discredit them.

Bhaskar Sunkara describes how Blair and Brown managed to reduce the party to half its former size in his book The Socialist Manifesto. He writes

The Japanese have a word for looking worse after a haircut: age-otori. Its synonym in English should be Blairism. Despite initial electoral success and some attempts on the margins to solve social issues such as child poverty, Blair and Brown pursued policies that undermined their own social base. When Blair became prime minister in 1997, Labour had four hundred thousand party members. By 2004, it had half that. That year Labour lost 464 seats in local elections. With anger over the party’s privatisation agenda and oversight of the financial crisis, as well as its support for the disastrous Iraq War, Labour was out of power and completely discredited by 2010. (p.209).

Part of the reason Labour lost the north was because, under Blair and Brown, the party ignored its working class base in order to concentrate on winning swing voters and appealing to the middle class. The working class were expected to carry on supporting the party because there was nowhere else for them to go. But that base showed its dissatisfaction by voting for Brexit, and then backing Johnson because he boasted that he was going to ‘get Brexit done’. But Corbyn’s left-wing followers and successors realise this, and are determined to start representing and campaigning for the working class again.

The Blairites, the media and the industry want the Labour party back to where it was – numerically small, and supporting big business and the rich against the working class, the NHS and the welfare state. This is the reason they’re attacking Long-Bailey and the other left-wing candidates, and praising and promoting moderates like Starmer and Nandy. But Blair’s success was only possible because the Tories were even more discredited than he was. And there was no need for his Thatcherite policies. They weren’t particular popular with the electorate at large, and with the massive majority that he won in the year, he could have started putting back real socialism instead. But that would have alienated the Tory voters he was determined to win over, Murdoch and the Tory press, and his backers in business.

Corbyn was defeated, but I don’t believe for a single minute that his policies have been discredited. Rather I think it’s the opposite: Blairism has. And while the Tories now have a massive majority, their policies are destroying the country and its people.

Only a return to traditional, old Labour values and policies will restore it.

Sargon of Gasbag on How the Norf Went Tory

January 11, 2020

A few days ago Carl ‘Sargon of Akkad’ Benjamin put up a video, in which he presented his idea of why the north of England and the midlands went Tory. It was based on a cartoon from 4chan’s Pol Board, and so presented a very caricatured view of the north. Sargon is the extreme right-winger, who personally did much to destroy UKIP simply by joining it. This ‘classical liberal’ – meaning libertarian – with his highly reactionary views on feminism and racism was too much even for the Kippers. His home branch of Swindon wanted him deselected when the party chose him as the second of their two MEP candidates for south-west England, and the Gloucestershire branch closed down completely. And according to Sargon, the ‘Norf’ went Tory because Blair turned the Labour party from the party of the working class throughout Britain into the party of the liberal metropolitan elite, and turned its attention away from class issues to supporting Islam, refugees, radical feminism and gay rights. This conflict with the social conservative values of working people, and particularly northern working people. As a result, they voted for Johnson, who had the same values they had.

The strip depicts the northern working class as Norf F.C., a local football team. They have their counterparts and rivals in Sowf F.C., a southern football team, and in the Welsh and Scots. The north is presented as a region of fat skinhead football hooligans, poorly educated, and suffering from scurvy and malnutrition, but who love their families, their communities and their country. In the strip’s view, these communities were traditionally Labour. But this changed with the election of Tony Blair, an Oxford educated lawyer, who took over the party. Under his aegis, it no longer was the party of the working class, but instead had a lower middle class membership. These were over-educated officer workers, who turned it towards Communism with the election of Jeremy Corbyn. They supported racism witchhunts, gay rights and flooding White communities with coloured immigrants, and were pro-EU. They despised natural, healthy patriotism. The result was that when Boris appeared, despite being an Etonian toff they recognised themselves in him. He would do something about Brexit and immigration, and would attack the radical left who support Muslim rape gangs and wanted to chop off their sons’ genitals. And who would also put the ‘bum boys’ in their place. It led to the massive defeat of the Labour party, and in particular ‘Communists’ like owen Jones and Ash Sarkar of Novara media.

I’m not going to show the video here, but if you want to see it for yourself, go to YouTube and search for ‘How the Norf Went Tory’, which is his wretched video’s title.

To Sargon, Corbyn is a friend of Hezbollah and Hamas, and to show how threatening the feminists and LGBTQ section of the Labour party he shows various radical feminists with T-shirts saying ‘White People Are Terrorists’ and a trans-activist with a baseball bat and the tattoo ‘Die Cis Scum’, referring to cis-gendered people – those who identify with their biological gender. The over-educated lower middle class people he sneers at are graduates of gender studies, who work in McDonalds, or have submitted to what he describes as ‘office serfdom’.

It’s very much a simplistic view, but there’s much truth in it as well as great deal of distortion. Let’s go through it.

The UKIP View of the North

Firstly, it represents very much the UKIP view of events. The academic study of UKIP, Revolt on the Right,  found that its members were poorly educated, working class people in the north. They had socially Conservative views, hated the European Union, resented immigration, particularly Black and Asian, and felt abandoned by the traditional parties. He is also right in identifying the change from working class representation to middle class representation with Blair’s leadership. Blair didn’t like the working class. He wanted to get the votes of the swing voters in marginal constituencies. As Sargon’s video acknowledges, he supported the neoliberalism that had devastated the northern economy and which made so many northerners hate the policy’s architect, Maggie Thatcher. Within the party, Blair sidelined working class organisations like the trade unions in favour of courting and recruiting business managers.

The Labour party was keen to represent Blacks and other ethnic minorities, women and gays due to its ideological commitment to equality. This policy became particularly important after Thatcher’s victory in 1979, when it appeared to some that the White working class had abandoned the party. I’ve also seen books published in the ’70s lamenting the right-ward movement within the Labour party due to its membership becoming increasingly middle class, so this trend actually predates Blair somewhat. However, it acquired a new importance under Blair because of the emphasis his administration place on BAME rights, feminism and gay rights. In my view, this was partly as an attempt to preserve some claim to radicalism and progressive values while abandoning socialism and the working class.

Sargon Doesn’t Understand Class and Communism

Sargon also doesn’t understand either what Communism is. He seems to believe in the rantings of the contemporary right that it’s all about identity politics and changing the traditional culture from above. That’s one form of Marxist politics coming from the ideas of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. But traditional, orthodox Marxism emphasised the importance of the working class and the class structure of society. Marx’s theory of Dialectical Materialism held that it was the economic base of society that defined ideology, not the other way around. Once the working class came into power and socialised the economy, the ideologies supported and created by capitalism would disappear. Gramsci’s ideas about changing ideology and culture became fashionable in left-wing circles because it was believed that the working class was actually in decline as society changed. Demographers noted that increasing numbers of people were becoming lower middle class. Hence the movement on the left towards that sector of society, rather than the traditional working class.

Corbyn More Politically Committed to Working Class

Yes, Corbyn also supported anti-racism, feminism and gay rights, but these had been key values of the left since the 1980s. I remember then how the Labour party and leading figures like Michael Foot and Ken Livingstone were vilified as Communists and Trotskyites, and how the party was caricatured as standing for Black lesbians. There were all those stories circulating in the Scum, for example, about how radical teachers in London schools had decided that ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ was racist, and insisted children sing ‘Baa Baa Green Sheep’ instead. Corbyn does come from a privileged background, but his views and the Labour manifesto are far more working class in the sense that they represent a return to traditional socialist economic policies than Blair’s. And certainly far more than Johnson’s and the Tories.

I have to admit that I’m one of the over-educated officer worker types Sargon sneers at. But I never did gender studies, not that I’m sneering at it or those who studied it. My first degree is in history. And I am very sure that most of the legions of graduates now trying to get any kind of paid work have a very wide variety degrees. I also think that many of them also come from the aspirant working class, who went into higher education in order to get on. Also, if you were interested or active in working class politics in the 1980s, you were exposed and took over the anti-racism and anti-sexism campaigns. Ben Elton was notorious as a left-wing comedian in the 1980s, but he defended the working class and ethnic minorities against the Tories.  It was not the case that the White working class was viewed with suspicion as a hotbed of racism, although sections of it, represented by such grotesques as Alf Garnet, certainly were. But it was that section of the working class that the Scum and the Tory party addressed, and so it’s now surprise that they see themselves represented by Boris.

Their belief in Boris is ultimately misplaced, however. Boris will betray them, just like he has betrayed everyone else.

He isn’t going to get Brexit done. He is going to continue with his privatisations, including that of the NHS, and dismantlement of the welfare state. The people in the northern and midlands communities that voted for him are going to find themselves still poor, and probably much poorer, under him.

But the lessons for Labour should be that there should be no return to Blairism. 

David Rosenberg and many other left-wing bloggers have argued from their own personal experience that the way of winning working class voters back to Labour and away from the far-right is through the hard work of knocking on doors and neighbourhood campaigning. This is what Blairism didn’t do. Jones showed in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class that it was Blair that turned away and demonised them, and simply expected them to continue voting Labour as they didn’t have anywhere else to go. And it was the Blairites and Tories, who viewed the White working class as racist and vilified them as such. Although it also has to be said that they also courted them by appealing to their patriotism and their feeling of marginalisation in an increasingly multicultural society. And the fact that Jones took the trouble to attack this refutes Sargon’s attempt to present Jones as a ‘Communist’, who was against their interests.

Yes, you can find the misandrists, and the anti-White racists and extreme gay and trans rights activists in the Labour party. But they’re an unrepresentative minority, who are going to be controversial even in their own small circles. Attempts by the Tories to magnify their influence are deliberately deceptive in order to stop people from believing that the Labour party means to do anything for ordinary working people. Just as Sargon has tried to do in his video.

Winning back the working class from Boris does not mean a return to Blair and attempting to turn the party into the Conservatives 2.0. But it does mean returning to working class activism, representation and continuing to support real policies to benefit the working class, whether Black, White or Brown, Christian, atheist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or whatever.

And that has to be a return to genuine socialism.

Private Schools Turn Down Bursaries for White Working Class Boys

January 7, 2020

This is a very interesting story from last weekend’s I. A retired Maths professor, Sir Bryan Thwaites, offered two private schools bursaries for White working class boys. They both turned it down. Their refusal, and the fact that these bursaries are needed, says much about class and race in the early 21st century. The report contained the observation that ‘inverted snobbery and liberal guilt neglect the white poor’. Which is true, but it’s also true that such bursaries wouldn’t quite be so necessary if it weren’t for Thatcherism. Thatcher promised that her reforms would turn Britain into a meritocracy, where everyone could succeed, regardless of class background, provided they had the talent. This has spectacularly not happened. Class mobility was at a standstill during Blair’s administration. Now it seems to have gone into reverse. And at the bottom are the working class that Thatcher and the Tories despise, and Blair neglected.

Thwaites was a working class lad, who had gone to Dulwich and Winchester Colleges on scholarships. He therefore wanted to award them bursaries amounting to £1.2m to set up scholarships for lads from his background. He said he wanted to address the ‘severe national problem of the underperforming white cohort in schools’. The donations amounted to £400,000 for Dulwich and £800,000 for Winchester. They turned them down because they were afraid that the donations broke equality rules. Winchester said that they ‘did not see how discrimination on the grounds of a boy’s colour could ever be compatible with its values’. Dulwich simply said bursaries were available to everyone who passed their entrance exam, ‘regardless of their background.’

Thwaites, who is himself a former college head, told the Times, ‘If [the colleges] were to say ‘We are helping these deprived cohorts of children,’ that would do a hell of a lot for their reputation and show that the independent sector is taking some notice of what’s going on in the world at large. The implication of their refusal… is that they couldn’t give a damn.’

Poor White Educational Underperformance

The newspaper then printed some stats to show why Thwaites believed such bursaries were necessary. Only 15 per cent of White boys receiving free school meals achieve a grade 5 or higher in English and Maths at GCSE in 2018 compared with 33.6 per cent of Asian boys and 23.4 per cent of Black boys.

It also noted that four years ago universities were told to recruit more working class students – particularly boys – after statistics showed that just 10 per cent of young men from the poorest areas went into higher education.

Thwaites therefore said he was turning his attention to state schools and academies would be only too glad to accept his money. Referring to Stormzy’s decision to set up two scholarships for Black undergrads at Cambridge, he asked ‘If Cambridge University can accept a much larger donation in support of Black students, why cannot I do the same for under-privileged White British?’

Trevor Phillips Attacks ‘Inverted Snobbery’ over White Children

The I commented that ‘it is these barriers – of structural inequality and the intersection of race and class – that society tends to tiptoe around in order to avoid honey-yet-difficult conversations.

However, in last month’s Standpoint, Trevor Phillips, the broadcaster and former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, attacked the ‘inverted snobbery’ which held by poor White boys. He claimed that modern society had made institutions ridiculously squeamish about accepting that their treatment of Whites as a ‘non-race’ was itself racist, and added ‘They have become so confused in these ‘woke’ times that a lethal cocktail of inverted snobbery, racial victimhood, and liberal guilt ends up rewarding schools for favouring the Black and Brown rich while neglecting the White poor.”

Comments from Other Academics

The report then said that campaigners have long tried to level the playing field so that every child, regardless of its race, gender or background, was given the best possible start in life. They then quoted Dr Lee Elliot Major, the professor of social mobility at Exeter Uni. He said

Philanthropists want to help people similar to them and, of course, that is their prerogative,. But often the bigger issue is help people who are not like them.

Success comes in many forms. Social mobility is not just about getting those magical tickets to the top schools, because that’s not for everyone. State schools cater to all sorts of potential – some students will be high-flyers, so will need support in applying for prestigious universities. Others will seek out an apprenticeship or attend a local college.

I think it’s great that [Sir Bryan’s donations} could be used to support many pupils going through different routes – not just academic study.

However, Major also pointed out the differences between Stormzy’s and Thwaites’ donations. Major said that he had many conversations with Black undergraduates at Cambridge, who were the first in their families to go to university, and who felt isolated there. He remarked

There are very specific issues around highly selective, very academic universities, because they are quintessentially middle-class and very White and I think [Stormzy’s scholarship] was a legitimate move to address this.

He said that there were discussions leading universities could have to make their campuses more inclusive, continuing

If you’re looking at achievement in schools, I would argue taht this comes down to culture in the home, to class and [household] income.

It’s often the case that White working-class boys are [products of] those backgrounds-but equally there are children from all sorts of backgrounds who live in poverty and aren’t getting as much support as they deserve. And the reason I’m anxious about it is that social mobility is an issue that should bring us together.

Of course there are lots of white working-class boys living in areas of deprivation – but the very fact they’re deprived is glossed over. We’re wasting talent in this country – talent from all backgrounds. (pp. 33-4).

Finally, there was a report in one of the papers that the donation had been accepted by a charity run by a Black man, which had been successful in combating low educational achievement amongst Black lads. He was looking forward to turning around the lives of White boys as he had done with Black.

Looking through the newspaper reports, it’s clear that some people are very uncomfortable with a grant being set up for poor White boys. It’s understandable. British politics and society is dominated by White men, and so a bursary aimed at raising the achievements of White boys seems reactionary, an attack on the feminist and anti-racism campaigns.

Which is why it needed the support of Trevor Phillips and a Black educationalist. 

Winchester College’s excuse for turning down the bursary because it was ‘incompatible with their values’ seems very fake to me, however. A friend of mine was privately educated. He once told me that these schools don’t exist to teach children so much as to give them the network of personal contacts to open careers and other opportunities. They exist to preserve middle and upper class privilege. Rich Blacks and Asians are welcome, but not the poor generally, although they may well accept working class BAME pupils as a gesture towards meritocracy.

Lee Elliot Major’s comment about Black students finding themselves very isolated at Cambridge university is true, but I also know White academics from a working/ lower-middle class background, who intensely resented what they felt was the entitled, patronising attitude of wealthier students from the Oxbridge set. He is right about funding being made available for academic and training paths that are more suitable to students’ aptitudes. There was also a recent report in the I about the massive drop out rate at university. Some of this is no doubt due to the real financial struggles some students face now that tuition fees have been introduced and raised, and they are expected to become massively indebted to fund their education. But some of it is also due to university education now being promoted as the only academic route. A friend of mine, who worked in university administration told me that this wasn’t working and was leading to people dropping out over ten years or more ago.

And I completely accept his observation about the role class, income and background play in academic aspiration. In my experience, this also naturally includes those from Black and Asian backgrounds.

But Blacks, Asians and girls have had much attention focused on improving their academic performance and improving their opportunities, that have not been directed towards White boys from poor backgrounds. And this needs to be addressed.

Doing so does not undermine, or shouldn’t, the efforts to improve performance and opportunities for women and minorities, however.

But if we are serious about improving poor and working class academic performance, whether White, Black or Asian, it will mean rejecting Blairism and its rejection of the working class in order to concentrate on copying the Tories.

UKIP’s Working Class Voters and the Tory Victories in Labour Heartlands

December 19, 2019

Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin in their book Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support For The Radical Right in Britain (Abingdon: Routledge 2014) argue that UKIP’s brief appearance as a new political force was due to it developing strong working class support. It articulated the frustration with contemporary politics of the people left behind. These were generally older, less educated workers, marginalised through de-industrialisation and social change, particularly immigration and European integration. They write

UKIP’s revolt is a working-class phenomenon. Its support is heavily concentrated among older, blue-collar workers, with little education and few skills; groups who have been ‘left-behind’ by the economic and social transformation of Britain in recent decades and pushed to the margins as the main parties have converged to the centre ground. UKIP are not a second home for disgruntled Tories in the shires; they are a first home for angry and disaffected working-class Britons of all political backgrounds, who have lost faith in a political system that ceased to represent them long ago.

Support for UKIP does not line up in a straightforward way with traditional notions of ‘left’ and ‘right’, but reflects a divide between a political mainstream dominated by a more financially secure and highly educated middle class, and a more insecure and precarious working class, which feels its concerns have been written out of political debate. In a sense, UKIP’s rise represents the re-emergence of class conflicts that Tony Blair’s New Labour and David Cameron’s compassionate Conservatism submerged but never resolved – conflicts that reflect basic differences in the position and prospects of citizens in different walks of life. Before the arrival of UKIP, the marginalisation of these conflicts had already produced historic changes in political behaviour. Blue-collar voters turned their backs on politics en masse, causing a collapse in electoral turn-out to record lows, and fuelling a surge in support for the extreme right BNP, making it briefly the most successful extreme right party in the history of British elections. Since 2004, Farage and his foot soldiers have channelled the same social divisions into a far more impressive electoral rebellion….

(T)he potential for a political insurgency of this kind has existed for a long time. Its seeds lay among groups of voters who struggled with the destabilising and threatening changes brought in by de-industrialisation, globalisation and, later, European integration and mass immigration. These groups always occupied a precarious position on Britain’s economic ladder, and now, as their incomes stagnated and their prospects for social mobility receded, they found themselves being left behind.

Many within this left-behind army also grew up before Britain experienced the recent waves of immigration and before the country joined the EU, and their political and social values reflect this. This is a group of voters who are more inclined to believe in an ethnic conception of British national identity, defined by birth and ancestry, and who have vivid memories of a country that once stood independent and proudly apart from Europe. They also came of age in an era where political parties offered competing and sharply contrasting visions of British society, and had strong incentives to listen to, and respect, their traditional supporters. Shaped by these experiences, today these voters look out at a fundamentally different Britain: ethnically and culturally diverse; cosmopolitan; integrated into a transnational, European political network; and dominated by a university-educated and more prosperous middle class that hold a radically different set of values, all of which is embraced and celebrated by those who rule over them. This is not a country that the rebels recognise, nor one they like. (pp. 270-1).

Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters believe that the defeat in the recent general election was primarily due to Brexit and Boris Johnson’s presentation of the Tories as the party that would ‘get Brexit done’. Craig Gent, in his article for Novara Media, ‘Learning the Lessons of Labour’s Northern Nightmare Will Take Longer Than A Weekend’ argues that the northern communities, who turned to the Tories were those which voted for Brexit. He writes

The bare facts are these: Labour’s election campaign did not look the same across northern towns as it did on left Twitter. Swathes of towns that said they wanted Brexit in 2016 still want Brexit. Those towns by and large felt patronised by the offer of a second referendum, a policy whose public support has always been inflated by the gaseous outpourings of its most ardent supporters. And two years on from 2017, the novelty of Corbynmania had thoroughly worn off, with his increasingly stage-managed media appearances beginning to rub people up the wrong way.

See: https://novaramedia.com/2019/12/17/learning-the-lessons-of-labours-northern-nightmare-will-take-longer-than-a-weekend/

It’s also been argued that working class voters turned to the Tories in the north and midlands because the Leave vote was primarily a rejection of the political establishment, and in those areas, Labour was the political establishment.

Some of the features of UKIP’s working class supporters obviously don’t fit those, who voted Tory last Thursday. The people voting for Johnson weren’t just the over-55s, for example, and so wouldn’t have had the glowing memories of Britain before we entered the EU, or EEC as it then was. And it should be remembered that UKIP was never as large or as powerful as its supporters and cheerleaders in the lamestream media presented it. But clearly there are a large chunk of the British electorate, who did feel ignored by Labour’s Blairite leadership and shared their elders’ impressions of a Britain that was powerful and prosperous outside the EU, and which had been actively harmed by its entry.

But Boris won’t do anything for them, except possibly make a few token gestures towards improving conditions for those communities. It will mean hard work, but Labour can win those communities back.

But it means not taking them for granted, as Gent’s article states, and building a solid working class base once again through community activism and campaigning.

And not leaving them behind to concentrate on marginals and Tory swing voters, as New Labour did.

 

 

Nationalised, State Healthcare Gives the Poor More Money and More Power

December 16, 2019

One of the arguments Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have been pushing to attack state healthcare is that, as it’s funded through public taxes, it somehow leaves people worse off. I came across a recent right-wing video on YouTube that seemed to be pushing that line. It proclaimed that American university students were all in favour of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All – until they were told what it would cost them. I didn’t watch it, because I knew it would annoy me. Similarly, over here the Tories and Blairites have been telling people that the inclusion of the private sector will bring costs down, thus allowing government to make savings and cut taxes. In fact, private healthcare is wastefully bureaucratic, far more so than state healthcare. But the Tories just want to cut taxes for the rich without making the lives of the poor any better. Indeed, they are determined to make them worse through savage welfare cuts, wage freezes, and further attacks on workers’ rights and employment conditions. And by encouraging more people to take out private health insurance in order to avoid their manufactured problems in state healthcare, the costs are transferred to the consumer. For the rich this is no problem. For middle income groups, it means having to pay thousands for operations and procedures that should be routine and free. They are worse off.

The book Health Reform: Public Success – Private Failure, Daniel Drache and Terry Sullivan, eds., (London: Routledge 1999) makes the point that Lord Beveridge, the architect of the modern welfare state, believed the contrary. State welfare provision which actually leave the poor and working people better off. Without doctors’ and hospital bills to pay for their illness, they would have more disposable income. The book states

It is not sufficiently recognised that by removing the financial burden of catastrophic illness from their wage packets, their disposable incomes would rise. No longer would they have to pay doctors from their pockets when their children were born or they fell sick and when they went to hospital; lack of money did not constitute a barrier to good care. These reforms, along with the spread of collective bargaining in advanced industrial economies, enabled people to enjoy the benefits of an expanded notion of social citizenship. Healthcare and full employment thus constituted a forward-looking framework for social health and not simply clinically provided health care. 

(p. 10).

Which means that the prosperity given to working people through free medical care, full employment and strong trade unions can act as proper citizens, able to make political and economic choices that will affect government.

Which is why the Tories and the Republicans in America have attacked trade unions and scrapped the idea of full employment, because they give working people too much power. And what’s the odds that similar thinking also isn’t one of the factors in their attacks on state healthcare. Oh, they do honestly believe that private enterprise is always better than state provision, but the threat of medical bills in a private healthcare system as well as general poverty is a good way of keeping the workforce cowed and fearful.

NHS privatisation will not make healthcare cheaper and more efficient. It will just make working people poorer and allow more bullying and exploitation from their employers.