Posts Tagged ‘Paul Foot’

Frustration and Dismay at Private Eye Pushing the Anti-Semitism Smears

October 19, 2019

This kind of follows on from the post I put up on Thursday, criticising a piece in Private Eye by their correspondent ‘Ratbiter’ celebrating Stop Funding Fake News and its attempts to cut off funding from what it considers to be extremist websites. Stop Funding Fake News has been the subject of a series of posts by Zelo Street, which has shown how the organisation is itself deeply suspect. For all its avowed concern to stop fake news, SFFN itself is less than transparent. It won’t tell you who its members are for one thing. And while it has attacked right-wing sites, like Breitbart and Tommy Robinson’s wretched website, as described in Ratbiter’s article, it’s also gone after those on the Left, like the Canary.  They’re also supposed to be extremists sites peddling fake news, but as I pointed out, the Canary’s politics are those of the old social democratic consensus. The consensus that Corbyn wishes to bring back, of a mixed economy, strong welfare state, proper, effective trade unions, a nationalised and properly funded NHS, and proper rights for working people. You know, proper, constructive policies that will save this country and its people from poverty, starvation and exploitation. But Thatcherites, whether in the Tory party, or the Lib Dems and Blairites in Labour, can’t stand any of this. They can’t bear the thought that Thatcher is a goddess who failed, and that neoliberalism has run its course and been found threadbare. So Corbyn and his supporters have been accused of being Trots, Commies, Stalinists and other epithets by the papers and right-wing Labour MPs like Jess Philips.

Israel Lobby Using Anti-Semitism Smears to Suppress Criticism

But these policies are actually popular with the British public, and so the Right has taken to trying to discredit Corbyn and his followers, and more broadly the Labour party, with accusations of anti-Semitism. As I’ve blogged about endlessly, the actual incidence of genuine anti-Semitism in the Labour party is low. Very low. What riles the witch hunters is that Corbyn and his supporters are critics of Israel’s policy of oppression, apartheid and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. The Israel lobby’s only defence against these entirely justifiable criticisms is to scream ‘anti-Semitism!’ and demand that their critics should be removed from office, silenced and even prosecuted for hate crimes. And ‘Ratbiter’ and Private Eye itself has been pushing this as strenuously as the rest of the media. In his article about Stop Funding Fake News, ‘Ratbiter’s’ praise for SFFN’s attack on the Canary claimed that not only was the Canary pushing fake news, but it was also anti-Semitic and pushing conspiracy theories about Jews. None of which is true. There is a concerted campaign by the Conservative Jewish establishment in this country to close down debate about Israel in line with the demands of the Israeli government. The Israeli state even as a special government office for promoting this hasbara. This is substantiated fact. But it’s suppressed by the British establishment and media, which wants you to believe that when the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council scream at Corbyn for supporting speeches by Holocaust survivors and anti-Nazi activists, like Hajo Meyer, attacking the maltreatment of the Palestinians, these right-wing organisations speak for all British Jews. They don’t, as is very clear by the number of Jews involved in the Palestinian rights movement, the BDS campaign and who support Corbyn in the Labour party. Still, why bother about awkward facts when you’re the media, eh?

Private Eye Part of Press Smears of Anti-Semitism

I’m particular dismayed and frustrated that Private Eye has joined in with this vilification and smearing. I’m not surprised by the right-wing press – the Fail, Scum, Depress, Times and Sunset Times, as they’ve always lied about and slandered the Labour party and left-wing activists. You only have to go back two years to when the Sunset Times smeared Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Or how it tried to tell the world that Michael Foot was a KGB agent, against all evidence. I’m disappointed that the Absurder, Groaniad and the Mirror have joined in with these accusation. But the Groan is in dire financial straits and has supported the Liberals in several elections. Kath Viner, the new editor, would like to make it a general political newspaper, not tied to the Left. And the Absurder and Mirror look like they’re run by Blairites.

Private Eye’s Liberal Stance and Challenge to Authority

But Private Eye’s support for the smears I find more puzzling and exasperating. OK, I realise that despite its attacks on NHS privatisation, Tory housing policy, the attacks on the disabled, the failings of the privatised water companies, probation service, and outsourcing companies like Capita and Serco, the magazine’s not actually left-wing. Its founders – Peter Cook, Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton and Auberon Waugh were all thoroughly middle class public school boys. John Wells was the headmaster at Eton. But the magazine does have a proud tradition of standing up for those wrongly accused and questioning the actions of the security services. Paul Foot was a staunch advocate for people he believed were wrongly accused of murder. The magazine is still covering the Deepcut scandal, and what looks very much like an attempt to hide the evidence and protect the guilty by the army and the police. They’ve also covered deaths in police custody and other cases of official incompetence, corruption and wrongdoing. They even published several pieces and then a final report in the mid-90s questioning the official assertion that the Libyans were responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. They believed instead that Syria was responsible, and that blame was placed on the Libyans for political reasons: Major and George Bush senior needed Syria to join their coalition against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. It has also defended asylum seekers, both collectively and individually, from racist discrimination, incarceration, beatings and abuse, and the threat of deportation. It is because the magazine has this proud tradition of questioning authority that I find its current support for the anti-Semitism smears infuriating.

Private Eye also Repeating British Intelligence Propaganda?

I am also aware that, as well as probing some of the actions of the British intelligence agencies, like when they have leaned on journalists to reveal their sources, they’ve also acted to promote them. There is ample evidence that the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in 2012, which overthrew the pro-Russian president, was anything but popular. It was instead a staged coup overseen by the US statement and the National Endowment for Democracy. But from reading the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye dealing with events in that country, you are told that it is all the fault of the Russians and their supporters. It also appears that the magazine does, or at least, did, have connections to MI5. Auberon Waugh was related to one of its directors or senior officials, and Lobster a decade or so ago ran a piece, ‘5 at Eye’, speculating the magazine and particularly Waugh were responsible for running the smear stories about Harold Wilson being a KGB spy. I am also aware that as a magazine that is unaligned to any political party, and which criticises and satirises all of them, it’s going to attack Labour. Corbyn, as head of the party, is fair game. And those attacks are going to come from his opponents. Which include ‘Ratbiter’, real name Nick Cohen, and whichever Blairites used to run the ‘Focus on Fact’ cartoon attacking the Labour leader.

Private Eye Shares Journalists with Other Papers

But nevertheless, I am extremely annoyed at the way it has joined in with the smearing of decent, anti-racist, Jewish and gentile people as anti-Semites. Like the rest of the press and media, they largely haven’t contacted them for their opinion, or given them space to explain how they were smeared. When a letter has been published in Private Eye rebutting their claim that anti-Semitism is rife in Labour, they’ve replied by quoting Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum, who believes it is. And who has been roundly criticised for this by Tony Greenstein. Part of this might just be standard press groupthink. Private Eye, for all its attacks on the press and media in its ‘Street of Shame’ and television columns, is part of it, and some of its anonymous correspondents are no doubt journalists working for other papers. Nick ‘Ratbiter’ Cohen is a hack for the Graon and Absurder, while one of the editors and probably a reviewer for their books page was Francis Wheen, another Guardian journo. The press seem to have decided en masse that Corbyn is an anti-Semite, and for all its professed independence and criticism of the fourth estate, the Eye really doesn’t seem to want to break ranks with them in that regard.

And I also suspect that they don’t want to counter that narrative for geopolitical reasons. Israel’s one of the pillars of our foreign policy in the Middle East, and although the paper has criticised it for its treatment of the Palestinians, its attack on Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites show that there are limits to how far the magazine will go in challenging foreign policy.

Private Eye also Afraid of Being Smeared as Anti-Semitic?

I also wonder if there are more selfish reasons. As Peter Oborne showed in his documentary on the Israel Lobby for Channel 4’s Despatches eleven years ago, the Conservative Jewish establishment and the Israel lobby will smear any and all newspapers and media organisations as anti-Semitic if they criticise Israel. Even, and perhaps especially, when that criticism is justified, as when the Guardian and BBC reported on the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon by the Christian Phalange, who were allied to Israel. The Groan’s former editor, Alan Rusbridger, described how the president of the Board used to troop into his office, with his pet lawyer, demanding the withdrawal of articles critical of Israel on the grounds that they would incite the general public to hate Jews.

The Beeb’s respected Middle East correspondents Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin were also accused of anti-Semitism when they covered the above massacres. When senior Beeb officials like Sir David Attenborough defended them, they too were ridiculously accused. That should have destroyed the Board’s credibility. Instead it seems to have succeeded in emboldening the Israel lobby. Since then Israel has also denounced and lied about the Beeb’s coverage of the blockade of Gaza and the bombing campaign against Palestinians, claiming that journalists were anti-Semitic and expelling them. This does seem to have had a chilling effect at the Beeb. And not just at the Beeb – the Groan and the Absurder have also fallen in line. And I think Private Eye’s determined promotion of the anti-Semitism smears may also be part of this. They’re also, I suspect, afraid of the Board turning up in their offices to accuse them of anti-Semitism. Back in the ’60s and ’70s when the magazine appeared more louche and subversive than it is now, some newsagents refused to stock it. In the 1990s WH Smith withdrew one edition from its shelves because of a joke on the cover about the prurient public interest in the death of Princess Di. I think the magazine is still terrified of some kind of boycott by distributors, which may well be the result if the Board did decide to start accusations of anti-Semitism against them.

What Can Be Done?

So there are a variety of reasons why Private Eye is pushing the anti-Semitism smears. But speculating on their motives doesn’t make it any less infuriating that they’re doing it. I’ve thought in the past of writing letters of complaint to the Eye, explaining that the accused aren’t anti-Semites, and asking for an explanation. But what’s the point? The letter would either be ignored, or a short, edited version would appear in the magazine, which would allow them to reply quoting Lansman or someone else that anti-Semitism is rife, etc. And I might be unfair here to the magazine, but I don’t want to find myself smeared as an anti-Semite in turn and have my name or address passed onto the trolls that appear online to howl abuse at Mike, Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein.

And so there doesn’t seem to be much hope of challenging the Eye in its pages. The only option left is to carry on critiquing its lies and those of the rest of the media in the hope that more and more people will realise that it and they are smearing decent people simply for political advantage and to keep a vicious, corrupt government installed.

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Lobster on Private Eye’s Smearing of Harold Wilson

August 13, 2016

Private Eye’s continued attacks and smears against Jeremy Corbyn on behalf of the New Labour establishment aren’t the first time they’ve run smears against a Labour leader. Of course, the Eye’s business is mocking just about every public figure, including and especially politicians. But sometimes this becomes something much more sinister: deliberate disinformation on behalf of the Secret State.

In the 1970s the British and American secret services were convinced that Harold Wilson was a KGB agent, including the head of the CIA, James Jesus Angleton. Various individuals connected with MI5 discussed overthrowing him in a coup, and imprisoning radical journalists, along with other subversives, in an internment camp in the Outer Hebrides. I’ve blogged about this before. It’s in ‘Red’ Ken’s 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour. Francis Wheen, a Guardian journalist and frequent guest on BBC Radio Four’s topical comedy quiz, The News Quiz, also discusses the paranoia about Wilson and the plots to unseat him, including the formation of private armies and articles by the Times demanding that he be replaced by a coalition government. One of those, who also believed Wilson was a Soviet agent was a junior Conservative politician, Margaret Hilda Thatcher. Many of these conspiracy theories were based on forged documents circulating in the media, which look very much like they were concocted by MI5 as a deliberate attempt to spread dissatisfaction. And one of the magazines that ran this disinformation was Private Eye.

Lobster, in issue 17 for November 1988 ran an article by Steven Dorril, then the magazine’s co-editor with Robin Ramsay. Entitled ‘Five at Eye’, this reported and commented on a piece published the year previously by the Guardian that the Eye may have been used to spread this deliberate black propaganda. Much of the material was published in the Eye by Auberon Waugh, who predictably denied any secret service involvement. In fact, Waugh had extensive connections to MI5 and also the extreme Right. He tried to join the Foreign Office, being recommended by MI5’s head, Roger Hollis. Hollis’ brother, Christopher, was his godfather. Christopher Hollis had been a member of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, was a contributor to various far right periodicals like Action and the World Review. During the War Waugh’s family had connections to those working in Middle East intelligence including Tom Driberg, the Labour politician, who also contributed to the Eye and MI5. Another colleague was Roger Fulford, who had also worked with Hollis. Auberon Waugh’s first job was at the Torygraph, and Dorril comments that it looked very much like an internal MI5 posting. In the 1970s the Washington Post claimed that the London papers were ‘flooded’ with intelligence assets, specifically referring to the Torygraph. One of Waugh’s closest collaborators at the Eye was Patrick Marnham, a contributor to the magazine’s ‘Grovel’ column.

When Wilson was re-elected in 1974, Marnham started receiving information packs from MI5 through a colleague on the Times. This material discussed Wilson’s position at the Board of Trade issuing import licences to a group of import-export dealers, known as the ‘East-West Traders’, who did business with the Soviet Union. Martin Tomkinson, another Eye journalist, stated he had a contact with the intelligence agencies, who believed that Wilson was too concerned with promoting Anglo-Soviet trade. The traders, who included Sir Rudy Sternberg, Lord Plurenden and Lady Beattie Plummer, were suspected by MI5 of being Soviet agents. In fact, Wilson discovered that Sternberg was a spy, but for MI6. Dorril’s article also contains a selection of pieces from the Spectator and the Eye, and the MI5 documents leaked to Marnham, with appropriate comments. The article also contains snippets from Dr Kitty Little’s pamphlet, Treason at Westminster, which was similarly paranoid about the East-West Traders, and by Peter Dally, who wrote for Asian Outlook. Both Dally and Birdwood were British representatives to the World Anti-Communist League, a far-Right organisation that included extreme Conservatives and outright Fascists and Nazis.

Reading between the lines, my guess is that there still is a link to MI5 at the Eye, despite the fact that it has, on occasion, been quite prepared to challenge the official line, such as over the Lockerbie bombing. All of the Eye’s founders – Richard Ingrams, Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Auberon Waugh were British public school establishment. One other frequent contributor was John Wells, who was the French teacher and headmaster at Eton. Its present editor, Ian Hislop, comes from the same background. The real radical at the Eye was Paul Foot, of the ‘Footnotes’ column, which has continued after his death as ‘In the Back’. Foot was accepted, however, because he also came from the same middle class, public school background, and shared their tastes.

If the intelligence services are involved, it’s probably because Corbyn and the Labour left threaten the dominance of the Israel lobby within the Labour party. Blair was very close to the Zionists through Lord Levy, and the accusations of anti-Semitism directed against Jeremy Corbyn and members of the Labour left stem from the fact that they have criticised Israel for its persecution and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The Zionists have become particularly shrill and defensive because the BDS campaign is having an effect in forcing Israeli businesses out of the occupied territories on the West Bank. Despite the inquiry and its finding that Blair was what his opponents had told the world all along – a warmonger – this is all about protecting Israel and maintaining the neocon policies in the Middle East.

Losing Patience with the Anti-Corbyn Bias in Private Eye

August 7, 2016

I’ve finally lost patience with the persistent bias against Jeremy Corbyn in Private Eye. I read the magazine regularly, and much of it I agree with and admire. It has over the years published some superb pieces attacking privatisation, the dismantling of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, and the persecution of the severely disabled by Atos and its successor Maximus. It has also shown itself quite willing to challenge British foreign policy. For example, it has published numerous pieces rebutting official claims that the Libyans were responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, and instead pointed the finger at Syria, who were not accused as George Bush senior needed their help during the first Gulf War. It has also done admirable work defending the bereaved relatives in the Deepcut inquiry, challenging the official story that all of the victims committed suicide and attacking the Army’s and police’s apparent cover-up of what looks very much like murder on an army base that was out of control, with rampant bullying and the sexual abuse of female squaddies.

And yet, despite all this, the magazine has joined the rest of the press pack in attacking Corbyn as ‘unelectable’, mocking, smearing and denigrating his leadership at every turn. For the past few weeks, it has been running a strip, ‘Focus on Fact’, which appears to have been written by the Blairites, and mostly revisits spats with Jeremy Corbyn and the extreme Left back in the 1980s. They’ve also published other pieces firmly showing their pro-Blairite bias. For instance, in this fortnight’s issue, there’s a piece defending Angela Eagle’s claim that Corbynistas threw a brick through her window, and attacking the good folks on the internet that have attempted to refute it as ‘conspiracy theorists’. They’ve also decided to criticise Corbyn because – gasp – he’s dared to appear on RT and Press TV. I intend to blog more deeply about both these issues. However, for now I’ll just say that the story about the brick thrown at Eagle’s office is false. It didn’t come through her window, and the area is marked by vandalism. There’s no evidence linking it to the Corbynites, and the entire accusation just comes from Eagle. As for RT and PressTV, this is more or less a return to the ‘red baiting’ of the Thatcherites in the 1980s, when they attacked Ken Livingstone and his group as Communists. This included members of the left-wing Tribune group, who had written articles for Soviet and Marxist magazines, but were themselves not Communists. RT stands for Russia Today, and is the Russian state broadcaster, while PressTV is run by the Iranian state. Both of these are extremely authoritarian countries which are notorious for their persecution of independent journalists. But I’ve used material from RT, because it gives a genuinely left-wing perspective on politics and events in America and the West, such as American imperialism and the exclusion of radical voices from official American politics. Very few others broadcasters are going to discuss these issues, with the noble exceptions of internet programmes like The Young Turks and Democracy Now. They put on the stuff that you won’t read about in our papers, or see on BBC TV, and increasingly not on Channel 4.

So what has prompted the Eye to attack Corbyn? I can’t be sure, but it strikes me that it’s probably due to the very upper middle class background of the magazine itself, and the fact that, despite its excellent record in many areas, none of its founders were in any sense radicals. Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Richard Ingrams and John Wells were all stout fellows, but they were very ‘establishment’. They were public schoolboys, a point I can remember being made by the panel at an event on the late Peter Cook one year at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. John Wells, who in my opinion was one of the funniest of British comedians and comic actors, was the former French teacher and headmaster of Eton. You don’t get much more establishment than that. I once heard Humphrey Carpenter describe Auberon Waugh as a ‘Tory anarchist’, presumably meaning he that he was instinctively a man of the Right, but was also acutely aware of their stupidities and failings as well. I think this characterisation probably applies much more to Peter Cook. Cook seemed to me to be resolutely cynical in his politics. When he was at university, he joined all three mainstream political parties so he could laugh at them equally. By contrast, Waugh, who also wrote columns for Private Eye, always struck me as just a sarcastic right-winger sneering at the Left. Ingrams was notorious for having a bitter hatred of gays. After leaving the editorship of Private Eye, he founded the Oldie, a magazine for the elderly. I asked my mother once if she’d read it. She had, but didn’t like it, declaring it to be ‘snobby’. The only genuine left-winger on the team was Paul Foot, and he fitted in because he came from the same privileged background, and had the same very upper-middle class tastes in food and drink as the rest of them.

Ian Hislop, the current editor, is no different. He’s very public school, and his father was some kind of army officer or colonial administrator in Nigeria. And he also shares other parts of the accepted political wisdom. A few years ago on Have I Got News For You he declared that, regardless of the attacks the Tories were getting for their austerity policies, Labour would also be required to cut spending on the welfare state. This is very much the standard view, which is also followed slavishly by Beeb broadcasters. The Kushners attacked it, and the media consensus surrounding it, in their book Who Needs the Cuts?, which contains numerous examples of BBC broadcasters and journos uncritically repeating what is basically Neoliberal propaganda. Hislop wasn’t mentioned, but he was clearly another who had uncritically accepted this view.

And Corbyn isn’t the only Left-wing politician to be have been unfairly attacked by the Eye. Tony Benn was regularly pilloried as a ‘swivel-eyed loon’, despite the fact that the people, who knew him said that he wasn’t a fanatic, but a thoughtful man who carefully considered what the people around him were saying and consulted their opinions before reaching a decision. But the received, Fleet Street wisdom in the 1970s and ’80s was that Benn was a fanatic and a madman.

As was ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone. Livingstone was also attacked as a ‘Communist’, despite the fact that he wasn’t. He used them, and occasionally used the same type of language, but wasn’t, in fact, a Marxist. But hasn’t stopped the Eye from calling him Ken Leninspart. And most of what Livingstone talked about in his interviews with the press when he was head of the GLC was boringly mundane. However, this was routinely ignored, and the only parts of the conversation – which in actual fact were only very small parts of what he said – which were printed and repeated were those which presented him as an extremist – profoundly anti-racist, pro-feminist and pro-gay. Which was too much for a Britain that was much more traditional and conservative in its attitudes towards race and gender than today. This was a time when the Black and White Minstrels were mainstream TV with a mass audience, despite being based on 19ith century parodies of Black, slave entertainment.

Benn and Livingstone were both attacked by the media because they were left-wing Socialists. Benn advocated extending nationalisation to a further 25 companies, as recommended in a report by his own party. One journo for the Sunday Times said that this was probably the reason why the press hated him, because editors and proprietors feared that eventually he would nationalise them. And ‘Red’ Ken was similarly reviled because he was in favour of industrial democracy and worker’s control, which shocked and outraged the media. The press did not, however, try to refute their ideas, and so took the tactics of sheer ad hominem abuse. My guess they were afraid to, because either they couldn’t, or they were afraid that simply discussing them would make them popular with the proles.

And I think this is true of the press today and its attacks on Corbyn. They’re motivated by the same fear of genuine Socialism after the neoliberalism and privatisation of the Blairites. And this terror is shared by Hislop and Private Eye, which despite its subversive tradition of satire and exposing abuse of power, isn’t really a radical magazine. Hislop and no doubt many of his contributors come from the upper middle classes, which own industry and continue to expect to take a leading role in British government and society. Jeremy Corbyn threatens them, just as Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone did before him. And so Private Eye joins in the abuse sneering and smearing him.

Rupert Murdoch and the Privatisation of the BBC

June 9, 2016

One of the major forces behind the Tory’s demands for the privatisation of the BBC is Rupert Murdoch. It is well-known that Murdoch owns the Sky satellite TV network, and so bitterly resents the state broadcaster as an obstacle preventing his own continuing expansion into broadcasting. Murdoch isn’t the only media mogul to demand the break-up of the Beeb in favour of their own interests as private broadcasters. Until recent, Richard ‘Dirty’ Desmond, the proprietor of Express newspapers and various grubby mags found on the top shelves on newsagents also owned Channel 5, along with his Fantasy X porn channel. The situation was much the same in the 1980s, when one of the other newspaper magnates, the late, unlamented Robert Maxwell, owned Rediffusion, which was also looking to expand, and so attacked the Beeb. But because of his domination of the market, Murdoch is perhaps the leading voice demanding the Beeb’s privatisation.

Mark Hollingworth discusses Murdoch’s self-interested attacks on the BBC in his book, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship. While this section isn’t particularly surprising in itself, as the Dirty Digger has been doing it for decades, what is shocking is how viciously and single-mindedly the old brute prosecuted his attacks on the Beeb in the 1980s. He writes:

The attacks on the BBC began in January 1985, during the corporation’s negotiations for an increased licence fee, and were sustained through the year. On 14 January 1985, the Times published the first of three successive leading articles extolling the virtues of advertising the need for deregulation of the BBC: ‘The BBC is today accused of inefficiency, unaccountability, self-aggrandisement and feather-bedding its employees…Are the critics justified? In their main principles, yes.’ The next day Labour MP Joe Ashton launched his private member’s bill calling for advertising on the BBC. That morning the Times’ editorial was headlined-‘Wither the BBC’- and called for the break-up of the corporation: ‘Advertisers can clearly pay some part in generating the revenue to pay for many programmes…We need a more open, less monolithic system of broadcasting in which customers can choose what qualities they want from their TV screens.’ The next day the Times thundered again at its 1,300,000 readers: ‘Lord Annan’s Committee recommended a break-up of the BBC into its radio, TV and local radio components. The government should now prepare to go further than this. It should consider quickly the establishment of a new broadcasting commission to auction franchises that are currently operated by the BBC.

Now, what the Times fails to tell its readers is who will directly benefit if these franchises are auctioned. At the front of the queue will be a certain R. Murdoch, proprietor of the Times, who will benefit commercially if the BBC is broken up. Murdoch’s company, News International, owns Sky Channel-a cable and satellite operation which transmits 73 hours a week of alternative television and has three million subscribers in 11 countries. In 1983 Murdoch also took control of Satellite TV, Sky’s parent company, at a cost of £5 million and has a 75.5 per cent shareholding. Satellite began transmitting in 1982, beaming English language programmes to Norway and Finland for two hours a night. In 1985 the Times’ owner acquired the biggest stake in 20th Century Fox to provide films for his satellite Sky Channel to beam across Europe. Clearly, if even parts of the BBC are privatised, these Murdoch-owned companies will make a lot of money.

Murdoch’s views on the BBC are quite clear. ‘I would like to see it privatized,’ he said in November 1985. But this was not just his private opinion. According to the Mirror’s Paul Foot, Murdoch ‘has personally ordered a sustained attack on the BBC and all its people.’ Alastair Hetherington, former editor of the Guardian, added weight to this assertion when he accused the Times of conducting ‘a vendetta against the BBC in its leaders, news stories and features’. This is certainly borne out by the evidence. The Times published at least eight anti-BBC editorials throughout 1985. The paper also published a series of news reports, often based on the thinnest material, which suggested extravagance and incompetence among BBC management. ‘BBC Condemned As Licence Fee Monster’ was the headline for one story which was merely a report of an article by an obscure ex-BBC employee in a trade journal.

Moreover, when angry readers have written to complain about the coverage or offer and alternative point of view, the Times has refused to publish their letters. this was revealed by Paul Fox, Managing Director of Yorkshire Television. On 2 November 1985, the Times published another leader attacking the BBC, the IBA and ITV companies and misquoted comments that Fox had made about public service broadcasting. Fox wrote to the paper to set the record straight about his misrepresented remarks, but his letter was not published. Three days later, on 5 November 1985, David Plowright, the Managing Director of Granada TV and Chairman of the ITV Companies Association, also wrote to the Times to complain about front-page news report of a MORI opinion poll on advertising on the BBC. In his letter, Plowright pointed out that the Times opinion poll showed that more people were either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied with the quality of TV in Britain than those who took the opposite view. How curious, wrote Plowright, that the paper’s news story had failed to include these facts. The letter was not published and the issue was not corrected.

The Times was not the only Murdoch paper to attack the BBC. His tabloids have joined in the fun. Here’s the Sun on 23 January 1985: ‘Oh, what superior people they are at the BBC. Here is the Director-General, Alastair Milne, raising his hands in horror at the idea of accepting adverts…Just where is the BBC superior to the commercial channels… There is only one area where the Beeb shines. No-one could possibly match its overbearing, totally unjustified smugness. And again on 2 September 1985: ‘The BBC should compete in the market so it ceases to be such a burden on the public.’ The Sun’s sister paper, the News of the World, began its campaign a trifle later than most but soon made up for lost ground. Every week throughout April 1985 there was a news story about the expenses of BBC staff which were reaching ‘scandal’ proportions. The next month News of the World journalists were instructed to file detailed reports of the eating and drinking habits of fellow reporters on the BBC during a royal tour. One brave woman journalist refused, because she said this was not her job. A News of the World executive then telephoned from London to accuse her of being disloyal. However, halfway through his lecture, the editorial executive was much dismayed to find that he had been put through by mistake to Kate Adey-a BBC television news reporter. (pp.12-14).

The News of the World executive probably left the phone with his ears ringing. ‘Kats Adie’ is the formidable woman, who was thrown out of Libya after she put the fear of the Almighty into Colonel Gaddafy. She is most certainly not afraid to ask awkward questions of the powerful.

The Beeb does have its faults. Its biased news coverage enrages me, and has been criticised many times for its bias against Labour and to the Conservatives. On the other hand, at its best it does provide good, solid public service broadcasting that few of its commercial rivals are able or even willing to provide. And advertising increasingly cannot provide the needed funding for some TV programmes today. A few years ago there were plans to bring back Spitting Image, the much-loved satirical puppet show screened on Channel 4 on Sunday evenings. This was eventually dropped because it was simply too expensive.

And no matter how biased the Beeb is, Murdoch’s worse. The more he goes on, the more he resembles the Bond villain, a media-mogul, who planned to start a war between America and China simply for its news value. That particular piece of Bondage ended with Commander Bond and his mates killing the villain, who was then reported as sinking in the South China Sea along with his stealth yacht. An end very similar to the drowning of Robert Maxwell. After something like five decades of lowering media standards across the globe, you feel it’s about time someone from the world’s covert intelligence agencies made him put a sock in it.

In the meantime, here’s Spitting Image on the Dirty Digger and his nearly subterranean journalistic standards.

Private Eye from 1995 on Private Health Firms in the NHS and Computer Chaos

April 13, 2015

Private Eye in their edition for Friday, 6th October 1995 also published another piece by Paul Foot in his ‘Footnotes’ column about a consortium of drug companies pushing for the privatisation of the NHS under the chairmanship of Sir Duncan Nichol, the director of BUPA, the private health insurer. Nichol was also head of the NHS when £20 million was wasted on a failed computer project, in which they were advised by Anderson Consulting.

Put Another Nichol In

So crass, discursive, vacillating and shoddily presented was the first report of Health Care 2000 that even the health secretary Stephen Dorrell attacked it.

Health Care 2000 was set up in 1993 by Britain’s 30 top drug companies “to encourage the development of partnership and programmes with others involved in health care”. It report suggests that private money should be encouraged into the National Health Service by allowing people to buy better NHS treatment – for instance by paying a fee for more convenient appointment times to avoid all those nasty hours with the plebs in the doctors’ waiting rooms. The only certain result of this would be that more money would be spent on drugs.

The chair of the committee which produced the report is Sir Duncan Nichol, who is described as director of the health service management unit at Manchester University. Shyly, the report does not boast of Sir Duncan’s other important job: as a director of BUPA, the private health insurance group.

From 1989 to 1993 Sir Duncan was also head of the National Health Service, of course, and in 1993 he gave evidence to the Commons public accounts committee about an interesting example of private money in the National Health Service: the waste of at least £20 million of NHS money on a disgraceful computer cock-up in t6he Wessex region. At the centre of the cock-up was a giant (and disastrous) IBM computer, recommended by a consultant to the regional health authority who, by astonishing coincidence, sat on the board of IBM (when this was discovered, the IBM man was “asked to leave” and given a pay-off of £111,940).

Asked by a Tory MP if the Wessex saga was “a litany of slapdash, improper and quite unacceptable intromissions with public funds”, Nichol replied: “There is no doubt that that would be an appropriate description.” He also agreed that between 1987 and 1990 the statutory auditor had sent five reports to Nichol’s NHS management6 executive outlining “improprieties” in Wessex. Asked what he had done about them, Nichol insisted his department had “doggedly pursued a whole series of points about the management and mismanagement of this project”. But alas, he confessed, all that dogged pursuit turned out to be “a hopeless chase”.

Nichol was asked about the role of Andersen Consulting, a firm which had set out to advise the regional health authority on which computer firm to hire, and ended up getting the contract itself. An auditor reported: “Although several officers took exception at the time to the apparent conflict of interest, no remedial action was taken.” Nichol could not explain convincingly why he and his executive had done nothing about it. Soon after this outstanding performance, Mr Nichol was knighted.

Sir Duncan came across Andersen again in a more congenial atmosphere during his recent Health Care 2000 Inquiry. His deputy on the committee was Patricia Hewitt, director of research at Andersen Consulting. She became famous as policy coordinator to Neil Kinnock during his days as leader of the Labour Party when he campaigned with tremendous vigour against any dilution by private money of the National Health Service. She joined Andersen’s last year.

I’ve already blogged about how Patricia Hewitt became part of the New Labour project to destroy anything resembling Socialism in the Labour party. What’s interesting is the evidence from this article how far back the Tory plans to part privatise the NHS are. The idea that people should have to pay for extra NHS services appeared last year with the recommendation by the Labour, Lord Warner, that the NHS should start making charges for its services.

As for Andersen Consulting, they were perpetually in Private Eye because of repeated bungling and conflicts of interest. The effective destruction of the Benefits Agency and Inland Revenue was on their recommendations. Following the global recession created partly by the sub-prime mortgages fiasco, Andersen decided that they could only clean up their act by changing their name. Well, this shows how deeply the corruption, venality and incompetence went. They should never have been allowed anywhere near government.

Private Eye from 1995 on Unum and Peter Lilley in the Tory Government

April 13, 2015

As the left-wing blogs have repeatedly pointed out, the Tories’ welfare reforms, in which the disabled are assessed and routinely denied benefit for being supposedly ‘fit for work’, are based on the quack pseudoscience of the American insurance giant, Unum. It’s pet doctors dreamed up the profitable idea that any and every kind of work was useful in helping the sick and disabled to recover. This was enthusiastically taken over by the Tories and New Labour, as it justified throwing hundreds of thousands off disability benefit on the spurious grounds that they could work.

The results have been horrendous. Severely mentally ill people have been driven to the point of suicide by the threat of losing their benefits. Doctors and psychiatrists have seen increased numbers coming to them suffering from stress due to assessments. Critically ill people, including those dying of cancer, have been told that their benefits have been stopped, as they are well enough to work.

In his ‘Footnotes’ column in Private Eye’s issue for Friday, 16th June 1995, Paul Foot published this article on Unum, which had been brought into John Major’s Tory government by Peter Lilley. Here it is:

Doctor On Call

To help him in his bid to save £2 billion a year by slashing the benefits of disabled people, Peter Lilley, social services secretary, has hired the vice-president of a big multinational private insurance company which is using the benefit cuts to boost its sales.

Overcoming the xenophobia to which he so often gives voice at Tory party conferences, Mr Lilley has appointed an American.

Founded in Portland, Maine, in 1848, the Unum Corporation describes itself as “the world’s leading light in disability insurance”. Unum Ltd, its British arm, is based in Dorking, Surrey. It issued its annual report last September, when chairman Ward E. Graffam enthused about “exciting developments” in Britain.

He explained: “The impending changes to the State ill-health benefits system heralded in the November 1993 Budget will create unique sales opportunities across the entire disability market and we will be launching a concerted effort to harness the potential in these.” In January, the full extent of Lilley’s plans to replace invalidity benefit with incapacity benefit revealed to the Commons. Estimated “savings” for the year 1996-97 were £410 million; for 1996-97 £1.2 billion; and for 1997-98 an astonishing £1.7 billion.

Obviously, with so much less government money going to sick and disabled people, the opportunities for private disability insurance were enormous. No longer could people rely on benefit income if they became ill or disabled. They would have to fend for themselves. Accordingly, UNUM Ltd, as its chairman had promised, “launched a concerted effort to harness the potential”. In April this year, a glamorous and expensive advertising campaign coincided with the new rules for incapacity benefit.

One UNUM ad warned: “April 13, unlucky for some. Because tomorrow the new rules on state incapacity benefit announced in the 1993 autumn budget come into effect. Which means that if you fall ill and have to rely on state incapacity benefit, you could be in serious trouble”. Lurid tables estimating weekly outgoings for an average family at £276, and benefit under the new rules at £100, urged people to “protect yourself with a Long Term Disability policy from UNUM”.

Crucial to the new rules were tougher medical tests to find out if people really are incapacitated. The Benefits Agency Medical Services (BAMS) recruited a new corps of doctors to carry out new “all-work tests”. The basic change in the tests was simple. In the past, disabled or sick people were entitled to benefit if they could no longer do their job. From now on, people are entitled to benefit only if they can do no work at all.

The new medical tests were fundamental to the “savings” Lilley hoped for. If the tests were too lax – if doctors were allowed to slide into sentimental slackness in assessing peoples’ ability to do any work at all – the whole purpose of the tests would be thwarted. So Lilley’s department set up an “incapacity benefit medical valuation group” to “monitor and validate the quality standards for the doctors involved in the all-work assessments”.

The most famous member of the group is Dr John Le Cascio, second vice-p0resident of the Unum Corporation, who has recently be seconded to the company’s British arm. Dr Le Cascio was also invited last year by Lilley’s department to help in the extensive training of doctors in the new techniques of testing. The DSS stresses that “the doctors don’t decide the incapacity benefit – that is done by an adjudication officer”. No doubt; but the officer makes a decision on the expert medical information provided the tests.

No press release was issued about Dr Le Cascio’s appointment. No one told taxpayers that the DSS is shelling out £40,000 to Unum Ltd for Dr Le Cascio’s services in the year from October 1994 to September this year. A DSS spokeswoman explained: “This comes down basically to a daily rate of £440 a day. That’s cheap for a consultancy, actually”.

The Eye asked Dr Le Cascio if he agreed there was an absolutely obvious conflict of interest in his position as validator and monitor of tests for a benefit, the cutting of which was being exploited to the full by the advertisements for his company. He replied:

“Well, I don’t feel that way of course, and if I did I wouldn’t have accepted the job. I was brought in for a specific reason, and that is to teach some of the medical principles which are contained in the design of the new test – that’s what I do, that’s my area of expertise. I’m a technical person and I can do that. To me, there is no sort of conflict as long as I do that job. I feel comfortable doing it, and I assume that those in the department feel comfortable with my contribution. The reason they’ve turned to me is because the commercial insurers have been working with this sort of valuation system for a long time and that’s where the knowledge lies.’

It was thus Peter Lilley and the Tories, who introduced Unum and the wretched work capability assessment. New Labour retained and expanded them, but the ultimately responsibility lie with the Tories. And the results have been horrendous. Mike estimated that about 52,000 people a year have been killed through benefit sanctions.

All so Lilley could persecute the poor and sick, and his friends in private insurance could make a quick buck.

NATO and the Economic Exploitation of Eastern Europe

January 31, 2015

I also found this little piece in ‘The View from the Bridge’ column in Lobster 45, reproducing statements from elsewhere that NATO was being used to exploit the former eastern bloc countries that have joined it after the fall of Communism. Although over a decade old, it’s relevant now as we are in period of diplomatic tension with Russia over the civil war in Ukraine. This has been presented as a case of pro-Western Ukrainian patriots attempting to free themselves from Russian domination. The reality is somewhat murkier, as the pro-Western side themselves were guilty of considerable corruption. It also includes open Neo-Nazis.

Under Comecon and the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union did indeed exploit its satellite economically, and dominate them militarily through a complex of joint industrial companies, trade treaties and military obligations. If the two pieces cited in the Lobster article are to be believed, then NATO is little better.

NATO and Eastern Europe
Who wrote the following?

‘Nato is now a device to exert control and extract cash. Those who resist, like Belarus, are punished… All eastern European states are required to sell off their national economic assets to foreigners, and close down their agriculture by accepting the dumping of subsidised EU food imports. This creates massive social disruption and unemployment. In addition, they must spend 2% of the GDP on defence, preferably on arms made in the US.

Consequently, a small country like Lithuania, whose economy has collapsed so catastrophically, has just announced the purchase of $34 million worth of Stinger missiles, made by the Raytheon Corporation of Tucson, Arizona. When Tanzania announced it was spending $40 million on a new civilian air traffic control system, there was an outcry; but Lithuania, whose official GDP is not much larger than Tanzania’s, will have to spend $240m on arms every year as the price for Nato membership. And Lithuania is just one of seven new member states, all of which are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on arms’.

Someone on the left? Paul Foot? Greg Palast? John Pilger? None of the above. (None of the above would use the term foreigners…) They were written by John Laughland, generally presented and perceived as an anti-EU right-winger. But take out the word foreigners…

Along similar lines the following appeared on John Young’s Cryptome site a month later:

It might interest your readers to understand the aggressive US tactics used to win the Lockheed F-16 deal with Poland last week. Information from an official translator who has first-hand knowledge of various meetings … an aggressive campaign, including electronic surveillance to ensure that Lockheed, rather than Swedish/French rivals, won an order for fighter jets. This campaign included … If Lockheed’s offer was not successful, the US would block or substantially reduce World Bank and International Finance Corporation loan/assistance package worth an estimated $1.4 billion (measured over 2003-2005); US officials warned that the loss of the Lockheed deal would create “substantial setbacks” for Poland’s activities within NATO which could prevent the placement of Polish military officials in special NATO committees and command structures … the US official restated that Poland would not have preferential treatment in the reorganisation of Baltic Sea deployments and planning should Lockheed fail in its bid.’

This makes you really wonder what the reality behind the ousting of President Yanukovych in Ukraine really was, and who was supposed to benefit: the Ukrainian people, or Western multinationals.

Radical Voices from History to Today

December 18, 2013

People Speak

The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove with David Horspool (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) is a collection of radical and anti-authoritarian texts from British history from 1066 to the present, collected and edited by the actor, Colin Firth, and Anthony Arnove. It was partly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Arnove had worked with Zinn translating the book into a series of stage readings of American radical and democratic texts, which toured the US. Realising that Firth was one of the book’s fans, Arnove approached him to do a British version. Firth, Arnove, and a number of their friends and other performers they admired did indeed stage a reading of some of the texts collected in The People Speak in 2010. This was filmed and broadcast by the History Channel. The two authors state that they hope a DVD of this reading will eventually be released to accompany the film of the same name made the year previously (2010) by Zinn and Arnove, with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Chris Moore. Firth and Arnove rejected any claim that this was the ‘actorly activism’ attacked by critics such as Marina Hyde. Rather, they were simply doing what actors are paid to do – to act, and interpret other’s voices.

Firth states that the book is not an attack on history teachers or the history curriculum, noting that his own father is a history teacher. It comes from his feeling, dating from when he was studying history at school, that the kind of history we are taught is incomplete. It concentrates on kings and queens and politicians to the exclusion of everyone else, who are presented as a faceless, homogenous mass. This is his and Arnove’s attempt to put back into history the voice of the excluded, the Socialists, Anarchists, agitators, Chartists, suffragists, Lollards, Levellers, in short, the trouble-makers, like Zinn himself. Firth makes the point that democracy works from the bottom up, and that it’s protagonists are real trouble-makers. He also makes the point that the rights we now take for granted and accept as civilised and decent were at one point considered treason. The people, who fought for and won them were those without political power, and were hanged, transported, tortured and imprisoned, until their ideas were eventually adopted and adapted. Their continued existence is, however, precarious, and we need to defend them. ‘These freedoms are now in our care. And unless we act on them and continue to fight for them, they will be lost more easily that they were won.’

Firth and Arnove freely acknowledge that in covering two millennia, they have let much important material out. They hope, however, that their readers will feel rightly indignant about that, and be compelled to point it out, or, even better, write another the book, which will be the first of many. Firth hopes most of all it will inspire their readers to speak out, and make their voice heard on the issues they feel is important, ‘As Howard reminds us, democracy is not a spectator sport, and history is not something on a library shelf, but something in which each of us has a potentially critical role’.

Chronologically, the book has divided into five chapters, ‘1066-1450: Commoners and Kings’, ‘1642-1789: Representing the People’, ‘1790-1860: One Man, One Vote’, 1890-1945: Equal Rights’, and ‘1945-2012: Battling the State’ collecting some of the radical texts from these periods. Between these are other chapters covering particular political, constitutional, religious, national and economic issues and struggles. These include:

‘Disunited Kingdoms: ‘Our English Enemies’,
‘Freedom of Worship: ‘Touching our Faith’,
‘Land and Liberty: ‘The Earth is a Common Treasury’,
‘Empire and Race: All Slaves Want to Be Free’,,
‘Money and Class: ‘The Rank is But the Guinea’s Stamp’,
‘Workers United: Labour’s “No” into Action’,
‘War and Peace: ‘What People Have Your Battles Slain?’,
‘Gender and Sexual Equality: ‘A Human Being, Regardless of the Distinction of Sex’.

The chapter on the 400 or so years from 1066 to 1450 contains the following texts:

Ordericus Vitalis on the Norman Conquest of 1066,
The Liber Eliensis on Hereward the Wake,
Extracts from the Magna Carta,
Extracts from the Song of Lewes; written by a Franciscan monk in 1264, this sets out some early examples of the doctrine of resistance and popular rights.
It also contains a section devoted to the voice of the Peasant’s Revolt, including
Wat Tyler’s address to Richard II,
John Ball, ‘Until Everything Shall Be in Common’ (1381),
and William Grindcobbe, ‘I shall die in the Cause of Gaining our Liberty’.

The chapter on ‘Disunited Kingdoms – Our English Enemies’, includes the following pieces:
The declaration of Scottish independence at Arbroath, 6th April 1320,
Owain Glyn Dwr’s letter to another Welsh noble, Henry Don,
The Complaynt of Scotland of 1549,
Jonathan Swift’s bitterly satirical ‘A Modest Proposal’ of 1729,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish Nationalist leader, Theobald Wolfe Tone,
The Speech from the Dock of Tone’s successor in the United Irishmen, Robert Emmet,
Rev. John Blackwell’s Eisteddfod Address in Beaumaris in 1832, stressing the importance of literature in Welsh,
Letters from the Rebecca Riots’,
The Letter from Nicholas M. Cummins to the Times attacking the English for refusing to supply the Irish with food during the Potato Famine,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish American Fenian Leader, Captain John McClure, of 1867,
Padraig Pearse’s Eulogy for the Fenian Leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa of 1915,
An extract from the Scots writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song of 1932,
Bernadette Devlin’s Speech in Draperstown when she stood as the candidate for the Nationalist Independent Unity Party in Northern Ireland,
Silvester Gordon Boswell’s Address to Travellers on Appleby Hill of 1967, and Boswell’s The Book of Boswell: Autobiography of a Gypsy of 1970,
The Dubliners’ Luke Kelly’s lyric, ‘For What died the Sons of Roisin?’ of 1970,
Pauline M.’s description of the events of Bloody Sunday,
An editorial on the Tax-Dodgers on the Isle of Man by the Manx Marxist group, Fo Halloo,
Bobby Sands’ prison diary for 1-2 March 1981,
and an extract from Gwyn Alf Williams’ history of the Welsh, ‘The Dragon Has Two Tongues’ from 1985.

The section on Freedom of Worship, begins with a section on the Pilgrimage of Grace, which includes
The examination of Nicholas Leche of 1536,
The Pontefract Articles of 2-4 December 1536,
The Examination of Robert Aske, 1537,
John Foxe, ‘The Mart6yrdom and Suffering of Cicelie Ormes, Burnt at Norwich the Testimonie and Witnes of Christes Gospell’ of 1557,
Matthew Hamont’s Trial for Heresy,
John Mush, the Life of Margaret Clitherow, 1586,
Daniel Defoe’s satirical ‘The Shortest Way with Dissenters:, Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church of 1702,
Ignatius Samcho’s Letter on the Gordon Riots of 1780,
William Blake’s ‘America’ of 1793, his Preface to Milton of (1804) and Preface to Book Two of ‘Jerusalem’ of the same year.
Grace Aguilar’s History of the Jews in England of 1847,
George Jacob Holyoake, Exchange with his Caplain on Atheism (1850),
An anonymous account of the Basingstoke Riots against the Salvation Army of 1881,
and Victoria Brittain’s ‘The Meaning of Waiting’, using the words of eight Muslim women married to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

The section on the period 1642-1749 contains
Elizabeth Lilburne’s Appeal against the arrest of her husband, the leveller leader John Lilburne,
Richard Overton’s An Arrow Against All Tyrants of 1646,
The Putney Debates of 1647,
John Lilburne’s Appeal to Cromwellian Soldiers of 1649,
The last speech of Richard Rumbold at the Market Cross in Edinburgh,
Reports of torture in prison from 1721,
The frontispiece to the anonymous pamphlet ‘Idol Worship, Or, the Way to Preferment, showing that the way to political power to was kiss your superiors’ rear ends,
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, 1776,
The American Declaration of Independence,
Paine’s Rights of Man, 1791,
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Destruction of the Bastille’,
An Advertisement for Commemoration of the French Revolution by Dissenters in Birmingham in 1791,
and An Anonymous Birmingham handbill to Commemorate the French Revolution, 1791.

The section ‘Land and Liberty’ contains
Robert Kett, ‘Kett’s Demands Being in Rebellion’, 1549, against the Enclosures in Kent,
Gerard Winstanley, ‘A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England’, 1649,
The 1650 Declaration of the Wellingborough Diggers,
The ballad ‘Bonny Portmore’ of 1690, lamenting the destruction of the forest around Lough Beg,
Thomas Spence’s ‘Spence’s Plan for Parochial Partnerships in the Land of 1816), an early Utopian Socialist precursor,
John Clare, ‘The mores’, c. 1821-4,
W.G. Ward’s ‘The Battle, the Struggle and the Victory’ of 1873, on a battle between the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union and the employers and landowners, who refused to employ their members,
Richard Barlow-Kennett’s ‘Address to the Working Classes’ on Vivisection of 1883,
Henry S. Salts’ Animal Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress (1892),
Ernest a Baker, The Forbidden Land of 1924 on the landowners’ denial of the right of access to land around the Peak District and the Yorkshire moors due to grouse shooting,
Benny Rothman on the Kinder Trespass in 1932 by ramblers,
and Voices from the Kingsnorth 6 Greenpeace protesters of 2007.

The section on Empire and Race has the above extracts,
William Cecil’s Speech in Parliament of 1588, against a bill against Strangers and Aliens Selling Wares by Retail, 1588,
William Shakespeare’s Sir Thomas More, Act II, Scene 4, c. 1593,
Anna Barbauld, Sins of Government, Sins of of the Nation; Or, A Discourse for the Fast, of 1793, against imperialism and war with revolutionary France,
Robert Wedderbu5rn’s The Axe Laid to the Root or A Fatal Blow to Oppressors, Being an Address to the Planters and Negroes of the Island of Jamaica, 1817,
Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, 1831,
Louis Asa-Asa, ‘How Cruelly We Are Used’, 1831,
Joseph Sturge, Speech at the Baptist Missionary Society of Birmingham, 1836,
An Anonymous Member of the Walthamstow Free Produce or Anti-Slavery Association, Conscience Versus Cotton: Or, the Preference of Free Labour Produce, 1851,
Ernest Jones’, ‘The Indian Struggle’, 1857, supporting Indian independence during the Mutiny,
Richard Cobden’s Letter to John Bright on Indian independence, 1857,
Celestine Edwards, a Black Methodist preacher from Dominica, The British Empire, attacking imperialism,
‘A Voice from the Aliens about the Anti-Alien Resolution of the Cardiff Trades Union Congress of 1893, by Jewish worker protesting at a motion by William Inskip and Charles Freak to ban immigrant workers from joining trades unions,
Henry Woodd Nevinson, ‘The Slave Trade of Today’, 1906, against the cultivation of cocoa by Angolan slaves,
The Indian nationalist Ghadar Movement’s ‘An Open letter to the People of India’, 1913,
The satirical, ‘In Praise of the Empire’ by the Irish nationalist and founder of the Independent Labour Party of Ireland, James Connolly,
B.R. Ambedkar’s ‘India on the Eve of the Crown Government’, 1915,
John Archer’s Presidential Address to the Inaugural Meeting of the African Progress Union, 1918,
Manifesto of Bhagwati Charan Vohra, a Punjabi revolutionary Indian nationalist, 1928,
Gandhi’s Quit India Speech of 1942,
C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary, on cricket and his experiences growing up in Trinidad, 1963,
Peter Hain, Defence in Trial from Picketing Apartheid South African Cricket and Rugby, 1972,
Linton Kwesi Johnson, ‘Inglan Is a Bitch’, 1980,
Sinead O’Connor, ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’, 1990,
The account of his own incarceration by an anonymous Tanzanian Asylum Seeker, 2000,
Benjuamin Zephaniah, ‘What Stephen Lawrence has Taught Us’, 2001,
Roger Huddle and Lee Billingham’s Reflections on Rock against Racism and Love Music Hate Racism, 2004,
The People’s Navy Protest on the eviction of the indigenous islanders from the islands, 2008,
and Mark Steel’s ‘The Poles Might be Leaving but the Prejudice Remains’, 2009.

The section on the period 1790-1860 has the following extracts and pieces
An Account of the Seizure of Citizen Thomas Hardy, Secretary to the London Corresponding Society, 1794,
‘Rules and Resolutions of the Political Protestants’, 1818. Political Protestants was the name adopted by a number of northern working class radical organisations demanding universal suffrage.
There is a subsection devoted to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which the local militia and then a detachment of Hussars attacked and broke up a peaceful meeting in Manchester of protesters campaigning for an extension of the franchise. This section has
The Letter from Mr W.R. Hay to Lord Sidmouth regarding Peterloo, 1819,
extracts from Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy
and William Hone’s The Political House that Jack Built.

The chapter also has following pieces
William Davidson, Speech to the Court in the Cato Street Conspiracy Trial, 1820,
and Mr Crawshay Recounts the Merthyr Uprising, 1831.
This is followed by a section on Chartism, including
Henry Vincent, Chartists in Wales, 1839,
Edward Hamer, ‘The Chartist Outbreak in Llanidloes, 1839,
and Chartist Protests in Newcastle, 1839.
Charles Dickens,’The Fine Old English Gentleman: New Version’, 1841, bitterly attack Tory feudalism and massacres of radicals,
and the Bilston, South Staffordshire Chartist Rally.

The section on money and class has a piece on the rebellion of William Fitz-Osbert against the way the Anglo-Normans barons shifted their tax burden onto the poor,
George Manley’s speech from the gallows at Wicklow, where he was hanged for murder, against the murder and plunder of the rich and general such as Marlborough,
Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in Country Churchyard,
Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man for A’ That,
and John Grimswaw’s ‘The Handloom Weaver’s Lament’.
This is followed by a section on Luddism, which contains
John Sykes’ account of machine-breaking at Linthwaite, Yorkshire, 1812,
An Anonymous ‘Address to Cotton Weavers and Others’, 1812,
The poem ‘Hunting a Loaf’,
The poet Byron’s speech on the Frame-Work Bill in the House of Lords, and his ‘Ode to the Framers of the Frame Bill’,
The ballad, ‘The Tradesman’s Complaint’,
An extract from Carlisle’s Past and Present in which he questioned the benefits of unrestrained economic growth,
Frederick Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England,
An extract from Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto,
Henry Mayhew’s ‘Labour and the Poor’,
‘The Last Sark’ by the radical working class poet, Ellen Johnston,
Thomas Hardy’s ‘To An Unborn Pauper Child’,
The Invasion of the Ritz Hotel in 1938, by Jack Dash, a Member of the National Unemployed Workers’ Union,
George Orwell’s ‘England, Your England’,
John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’,
Jimmy Reid’s Inaugural Speech as Rector of Glasgow University in 1972,
and Dick Gaughan’s ‘Call It Freedom’.

The section ‘Workers United’ contains the following

An Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland by the Glasgow Weavers, 1820,
Richard Oastler’s Letter to the Leeds Mercury on Slavery, denouncing the harsh conditions endured by children working in the factories and mines,
George Loveless, the Tolpuddle Martyr,
Patience Kerr’s Testimony before the Children’s Employment Commission, 1842,
Thomas Kerr’s ‘Aw’s Glad the Strike’s Duin’, 1880,
William Morris’ The Depression of Trade and Socialism: Ends and Means, 1886,
Annie Besant on White Slavery in London,
Samuel Webber’s Memories of the Matchgirl’s Strike,
Ben Tillett on the Dock Strike, 1911,
The Speech, ‘I am here as the Accuser’ by John Maclean, a Revolutionary Glaswegian Socialist tried for sedition for trying to dissuade soldiers from fighting in the First World War,
An account of the General Strike of 1926 by an Ashton Sheet Metal Worker,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘The John Maclean March’,
Frank Higgins’ ‘The Testimony of Patience Kershaw’,
An account of the Miners’ Strike by Bobby Girvan and Christine Mahoney,
And Mark Serwotka’s ‘Imagine Not Only Marching Together, but Striking Together’, of 2011 against the Coalition.

The section on Equal Rights has an extract from Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism,
Emmeline Pankhursts’ Kill Me or Give Me My Freedom,
George Orwell’s ‘A Hanging’,
and a section for the voices of those involved in the Battle of Cable Street against Mosely’s Blackshirts.
This section includes the testimony of William J. Fishman, a Stepney Labour activist, the then secretary of the Communist Party, Phil Piratin, Joe Jacobs, another member of the Communist Party, also from Stepney, Julie Gershon, a Stepney resident, Mr Ginsburg, from Cable Street, and Mrs Beresford, of Lascombe’s fish and chip shop.
These are followed by an extract from Aneurin Bevan’s ‘In Place of Fear’.

The section and war and piece begins with Thomas Hoccleve’s An Appeal for Peace with France of 1412,
a Handbill from the Weavers of Royton, 1808,
John Bright’s Speech against the Crimean War,
Bertrand Russell’s Letter to the Nation, 1914,
Siegfried Sassoon’s Declaration against War, 1917,
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Disabled’,
The section answering the question, ‘How Should War be Prevented?’ from Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas,
James Maxton’s Speech Against War,
Charlie Chaplin’s Final Speech from The Great Dictator,
Phil Piratin on the Invasion of the Savoy Hotel, 1940,
Denis Knight, The Aldermaston Anti-Nuclear March, 1958,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’, dedicated to Scots anti-Nuclear marchers,
and Adrian Mitchell’s ‘To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies about Vietnam)’, 1964.

There is also a section of voices from the women involved in the Greenham Common Peace Protest, containing testimony and memories from Kim Besly, Sarah Hipperson,Ann Pettitt, and Thalia Campbell.
This is followed by Mary Compton’s speech at the Stop the War Coalition, and Robin Cook’s resignation speech to parliament against the invasion of Iraq.

The section and gender and sexual equality begins with an anonymous sixteenth century Song on the Labour of Women,
The Petition of Divers Well-Affected Women, 1649, against the imprisonment of four of the Levellers,
An anonymous article from the Saint James Chronicle from 1790, recording the ‘Extraordinary Female Affection’ between the ‘Ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby,
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792,
Anna Wheeler and William Thompson’s ‘Address to Women’, an extract from their pamphlet, Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain them in Political, and thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, 1825,
A letter by an anonymous prostitute from the Times, 1858,
Josephine Butler’s An Appeal to the People of England, on the Recognition and Superintendence of Prostitution by Governments,
Edmund Kell, ‘Effects of the Acts Upon the ‘Subjected’ Women, against the humiliation endured by women through the examinations under the Contagious Diseases Act,
Oscar Wilde’s Second Trial for ‘Gross Indecency’,
Helen Gordon Liddle’s The Prisoner, an account of the force-feeding of the Suffragettes under the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act,
Two passages from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own,
Against the Law, by Peter Wildeblood, a journalist and TV producer arrested for conspiracy to incite acts of gross indecency,
The memories of Vicky and Janice of Lesbian Life in Brighton in the 1950s and ’60s,
Selma James and the Women’s Liberation Workshop, ‘Women against the Industrial Relations Act’, 1971,
Tom Robinson’s ‘Glad to be Gay’,
Quentin Crisp’s How to Become a Virgin,
and Ian McKellen’s Keynote Speech at the 2008 Stonewall Equality Dinner.

The section, ‘Battling the State’, has pieces and extracts from
Tariq Ali’s ‘The Street is Our Medium’, from Black Dwarf, the newspaper of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, with a copy of Mick Jagger’s handwritten lyrics to Street Fighting Man.
Paul Foot’s Speech on the Murder of Blair Peach, 1979,
The Clash, ‘Know Your Rights’, 1982,
Elvis Costello, ‘Shipbuilding’, against the Falkland’s War,
Pensioner Nellie discussing the Poll Tax revolt,
Jeremy Hardy, ‘How to Be Truly Free’, 1993,
‘Catching Buses’ by the Bristolian disabled rights activist, Liz Crow,
Harold Pinter’s ‘Art, Truth and Politics’, 2005,
Mark Thomas’ ‘Put People First G20 Protest of 2009,
Euan Booth’s ‘Subversively Move Tony Blair’s Memoirs to the Crime Section in Bookshops’,
The Speech on Student Protests by the fifteen-year old schoolboy, Barnaby Raine, to the Coalition of Resistance Conference.
The book ends with Zadie Smith’s piece attacking library closures in 2011.

As well as notes and a normal index, the book also has a chronological index, placing the pieces in order according to the dates they were written.

The book is indeed encyclopaedic and comprehensive in the range of its selected texts through two millennia of history. Firth is quite right when he says that much has been necessarily left out. Whole can and have been written about some of the subjects he has touched on, such as popular protest in history, the Enclosures, Chartism, the development of British Socialism, Irish, Scots and Welsh history and nationalism, Socialism in Britain, opposition to the workhouse, to name but a few. There are a number of works on gay, gender and women’s history. E.P. Thompson himself wrote a history of the English working class, which remains one of the standard texts on the subject. Labour history-writing goes further back than Thompson, however. The Fabians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote two books on the country and town labourers respectively. A number of the first Labour MPs to be voted into parliament have also left their autobiographies, describing their rise from manual labourer to Member of Parliament.

The book does an important service by showing just how old some of the issues and techniques raised and used by today’s protesters actually are. Hoccleve’s appeal for peace with France shows that peace protests go right back to the Middle Ages. Indeed, in the Tenth Century the Church led a peace movement to establish God’s Truce. This was the ban on fighting by the knights and the aristocracy on certain days of the week, so that the peasants, their crops and livestock were harmed as little as possible. And some of the 19th century popular protests are surprisingly modern in flavour. I was struck in the 1980s by how similar Cobden and Bright’s peace meetings demanding an end to the Crimean War were to contemporary anti-Nuclear peace marches and protests. An earlier generation would doubtless be struck by the similarity to the anti-Vietnam protests. The various articles, pamphlets, books and letters written attacking British imperialism are a reminder that, even during the intensely patriotic Victorian age imperialism and colonial expansion were the subjects of criticism. One of Gladstone’s ministers was privately strongly anti-imperial, and wrote articles for the Liberal press denouncing imperialism. ‘A love of empire’, he wrote, ‘is the love of war’. It’s as true now as it was then.

The Anti-Saccherist League is another example of a startlingly modern Victorian protest. It was an early example of ethical consumption. It aimed to attack slavery by destroying the profits from sugar produced by slaves. Instead of buying sugar from the Caribbean, it instead promoted Indian sugar, which it believed was produced by free people. The book doesn’t mention it, but there were also feminist campaigns to end slavery. One of the petitions against slavery compiled by anti-Slavery activists, was by women, attacking the brutality experienced by enslaved women, and addressed to the Queen herself, Victoria. It was felt that she, as a woman, would have more sympathy to the sufferings of the other members of her gender in slavery than men. Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman is justly famous, and has been published in Penguin Classics. It, and the 19th century pamphlet similarly protesting women’s subordination and exploitation are a reminder that feminism did not begin with the suffragettes or was a product of ’60s radicalism.

Some of the older, more ancient texts from the book could easily be reprinted today as an indictment of modern conditions and attitudes under the Coalition. The descriptions of the government and employers’ opposition to the dock and matchgirls’ strikes sound very modern indeed, and Annie Besant’s denunciation of white slavery in London – the gruelling work performed in factories by poorly paid and exploited workers, sounds exactly like the world Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the whole foul crew would like to drag us back to.

I do, however, have problems with some of the material included in the book. It’s true that the United Kingdom was largely created through military expansion and conquest, as the Anglo-Norman barons first took Wales, and then established the English pale and suzerainty over the Gaelic clans in Ireland. They tried to conquer Scotland, but England and Scotland were only politically united after the failure of the Darien colony in the early 18th century. The history of the British control of Ireland is one of repeated misgovernment and oppression, as well as missed opportunities for reform and improvement. If some of George III’s ministers had succeeded in enfranchising Roman Catholics, so that they had at least some of the same rights as Protestants, or Gladstone, himself very much a member of the Anglican Church, had succeeded in granting ‘Home Rule all round’ to the ‘Celtic Fringe’, then some of the sectarian and political violence could possibly have been avoided. Discrimination against Roman Catholics was widespread and resulted in the Civil Rights demonstrations by Ulster Catholics in the 1960s. It also produced the Nationalist terrorist groups, who, like the Loyalist terrorists, which opposed them, have been responsible for some truly horrific atrocities, including the mass murder of civilians. I do have strong reservations of parts of the Irish folk scene, because of the way folk songs describing and denouncing historic atrocities by the British, were used by Nationalist paramilitaries to drum up hatred and support for their murderous campaigns. I am certainly not accusing any of the modern folk groups included in the book, whose lyrics denounce what they see as the continuing oppression of the Irish people, of supporting terrorism. Firth and Arnove appear to have deliberately avoided choosing the contemporary folk songs that do glamorise terrorism. Nevertheless, there is a problem in that some of the Irish folk songs about the suffering of their country and its people can be so abused. I am also definitely not impressed with Protestant, Loyalist sectarianism and its vilification of and celebration of violence against Roman Catholics.

It’s also the case that historically at least, many Protestants did support the aspirations of their Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen for freedom and emancipation. A few years ago Mapping the Town, BBC Radio 4’s urban history programme, broadcast an edition from Belfast. This noted that one of the first Roman Catholic churches built in the town in the late 18th or early 19th century was half funded by the town’s Protestants. Although there denominations were recognised and permitted by the Anglican establishment, unlike Roman Catholicism, which was rigorously prohibited, they also suffered serious legal disabilities and were prevented from holding political office. They shared the resentment their Roman Catholic friends and fellow Irishmen felt, and so sometimes, as here, made common cause with them. The book does include some of the speeches from Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen, the 18th century militant Nationalist organisation that included both Roman Catholics and Protestants. This makes the point that the struggle for an independent Ireland has historically included Protestants as well as Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, possibly some further Irish Protestant texts supporting independence or Roman Catholic emancipation would have been useful, to show such issues can and did transcend the religious divide.

Another problem with the section on Ireland is that in Northern Ireland the majority of the inhabitants were Protestants, who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the province was created through an uprising against the possibility that it would become part of Eire. While the oppression of Roman Catholics in Ulster is definitely undemocratic, it also has to be recognised that Ulster has remained part of the UK through the wishes of a majority of its people. This has been implemented through democratic politics, which is something that needs to be recognised. Unfortunately, the exclusive focus on Irish nationalism in the book obscures the fact that the province’s inclusion in the UK does have a popular democratic mandate.

A further issue is the exclusion of a modern, working class Ulster Protestant voice. Nearly a decade ago now the Independent reviewed a play by a working class Ulster Protestant playwright about the Troubles. The play was about a family reacting to the rioting occurring outside. I’ve unfortunately forgotten, who the playwright was. What I do remember was his comment that working class Protestants in Ulster were disenfranchised, as there were no organisations representing them. It’s a controversial claim, but there’s more than a little truth in it. Many of the working class political parties in Northern Ireland, such as the SDLP, are more or less Nationalist. The Unionist party, on the other hand, was formed from the merger of the Conservative and right-wing parts of the Liberal party. There has therefore been little in the way of working-class Protestant political parties, although some of the militant Protestant paramilitaries did adopt a radical Socialist agenda in the 1970s. Again, it would have been good to have a text or so examining this aspect of Northern Irish politics, though one which would not support the Protestant paramilitaries and their violence.

Equally problematic is the inclusion in the book of the voices of the womenfolk of the men imprisoned in Guatanamo Bay, collected by Victoria Brittain. Now Gitmo is indeed a human rights abuse. The prisoners there are held without trial or sentencing. The reasoning behind this is that, while they are guilty of terrorism offences, wartime conditions and the pressures of battle mean that it has been impossible to obtain the level of evidence required to secure a conviction under civilian law. If they were tried, they would be acquitted, and disappear to continue their terrorist campaigns against the US. Hence, for national security they must be detained outside the law. It’s a dangerous argument, as it sets up a precedent for the kind of ‘Nacht und Nebel’ disappearances and incarceration without trial of domestic opponents that was ruthlessly used by the Nazis on their political opponents in Germany.

This does not mean that the men held without trial in Gitmo are democrats. Far from it. Those that fought for the Taliban supported a vehemently anti-democratic regime. It was a violently repressive theocracy, which rejected ‘man-made law’ in favour of the Sharia. Under the Taliban, no forms of religious belief or unbelief were tolerated apart from Islam. Women were prevented from going out in public except when clad in the chador. As they were supposed to be silent and not draw attention to themselves when in public, they were beaten if they made a sound. This included the noises made by the artificial limbs of women, who had been mutilated by the mines and ordnance used in the fighting. There was also an active campaign against female education. This situation has been challenged by the presence of the Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Jeremy Hardy in the News Quiz derided this as ‘collateral feminism’. He has a point. The war was not fought to liberate or improve the conditions of Afghan women. This is very much a side effect. However, if the Western occupation of Afghanistan does raise their status and give them more freedom, then it will have done some good.

As for the occupation of Afghanistan itself, I’ve read material that has argued that the real reason the Western forces are there is to secure access to and appropriate the country’s oil pipelines. There’s possibly something in that. However, the immediate reason for the invasion was al-Qaeda’s attack on the US on 9/11. The destruction of the Twin Towers and parallel attacks on the Pentagon and the White House were acts of war. There is simply no two ways about this, and the West’s counter-attack and invasion of Afghanistan was an entirely appropriate response. It is therefore somewhat disingenuous to include the piece of on the suffering of the wives of the men imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, when the men themselves were the militant, murderous supporters of an oppressive regime that itself had absolute contempt for democracy and Western notions of human rights.

If many of the texts in this volume seem surprisingly modern, the extracts on the Ladies of Llangollen can be somewhat misleading in that historically British society has recognised a number of intense same-sex relationships, that were not at the time regarded as homosexual, or which included a homosexual element that was nevertheless seen in context as part of a wider relationship. There has been a book published within the last year or so on the homosocial relationship between medieval knights, which examined the all-male camaraderie and loyalty between them. The chivalrous concept of campiognage, which was the extreme friendship and loyalty between two knights, could be described in homosexual terms, even when one knight was helping his comrade in arms to escape with his lady love. In the 19th century there was the ‘romantic friendship’. This was a devoted friendship between two members of the same sex. These now can strike us as definitely gay, but at the time these were not seen as being necessarily homosexual or particularly extraordinary. Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried next to another priest, with whom he shared a profound friendship, was almost certainly such a Victorian romantic friendship, rather than a straightforward gay relationship. Although the ladies of Llangollen described themselves as having eloped, they always maintained that they devoted themselves to artistic and intellectual pursuits. They were celebrated at the time for their devotion to each other, and visitors to their home included many of the 19th century’s great and good, including the Duke of Wellington. It seems to me therefore that there relationship was seen as another romantic friendship, rather than a lesbian relationship.

It is also the case that the Victorians were aware of the existence of lesbianism. The story that when they were formulating the laws against homosexuality, Queen Victoria and her ministers did not outlaw female homosexuality because they didn’t believe it existed is a myth. They knew that it did. They just didn’t see it as a particular threat. The historian Martin Pugh makes this point in his book, British Fascism between the Wars. He argues that lesbianism was only perceived as a threat to British society after the First World War, when there was a ‘crisis of masculinity’. It was widely believed that the cream of British manhood had all been carried off by the War, and that only inferior men had been left behind. This created the atmosphere of sexual panic in which arose Pemberton Billing and his notorious black book. Billing was an extreme Right-wing Tory MP, who believed that the Germans were blackmailing British homosexuals into betraying their country. He claimed to have a little book containing the names of 50,000 ‘devotees of Sodom and Lesbia’, and regularly attacked other public figures with accusations that they were gay. At least one of his victims sued for libel, but the trial was called off when Billing accused the presiding judge of being another gay, whose name was in his book. I’m no legal expert, but it has struck me that the judge would have grounds for jailing him for contempt. Moral fears and legislation against gay women arguably date from this period, rather than the Victorian age.

These reservations aside, this is a powerful, inspiring book, that should encourage and empower anyone with an interest in radical history and who is determined to defend freedom and dignity today from the increasing attacks on it by the Coalition, the most reactionary regime this country has endured since the election of Mrs Thatcher in 1979.

Also from 1995: Tories Reject Report on Poverty in Wales as ‘Communist Propaganda’

August 12, 2013

Just below the article on Peter Lilley’s commissioning of the American private disability insurance firm, Unum, to assist in their slashing of disability benefit in the 16th July 1995 issue of Private Eye was another piece. This reported the rejection of an officially commissioned report into Welsh rural poverty by the junior Welsh Minister, Rod Richards, simply because it told him something he didn’t want to hear. Foot’s piece went:

For Richards or Poorer

When civil servants in Wales heard that a survey on English rural life was being carried out by a team headed by Professor Paul Cloke of University College, Lampeter, Wales, they decided to ask the professor if he would do a similar job for rural Wales.

The professor obliged. He and his team sent out 1,000 questionnaires with exactly the same questions they had sent to 3,000 people in England. The answers were analysed and the report compiled in exactly the same way. The three sponsoring bodies – the Welsh Office, the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales – worked closely with Cloke’s team, and when the report was produced last year the Welsh Office indicated that it would soon be published by the government, as the English report had been.

They reckoned without Rod “The Rod” Richards MP, the eccentric junior Welsh minister who learned his politics in the intelligence services. Richards was outraged when he read the report’s very mild conclusion that 30 per cent of the people of rural Wales are living in poverty.

The report wasn’t published and the Welsh Office politely says: “We weren’t happy with the research.” Officials there are embarrassed by the truth – that Rod Richards regarded the whole exercise as communist propaganda.’

It’s almost like the stereotypical image of a Conservative – a fierce reactionary decrying anything that doesn’t present capitalism as absolutely perfect as ‘communist propaganda’. Faced with ministers like this, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of Welsh people want devolution.

Rod Richards

Rod Richards in 1995. The protector of the Welsh peasantry against exploitation in Communist propaganda.

Paul Foot on the Insurance Company Unum and Cuts to Disability Benefit in Private Eye from 1995

August 12, 2013

Paul Foot, the journalist brother of Labour leader Michael Foot, had a regular column in Private Eye until his death. Entitled ‘Footnotes’, this documented the abuse of corporate and political power, and Right-wing attacks on welfare, the poor, the disabled, minorities and the working class. After his death it became ‘In the Back’, and is one of the features that lift the Eye above being merely another humour magazine making cheeky comments about politicians and celebs. One of the companies standing behind the Coalitions cuts to disability benefit and the welfare state is the American private insurance company, Unum. Paul Foot turned his gaze on the company way back in the Eye’s issue for the 16th June 1995, when they were hired by Major’s Social Services Secretary, Peter Lilley. The article went as follows:

Doctor on Call

To help him in his bid to save £2 billion a year by slashing the benefits of disabled people, Peter Lilley, social services secretary7, has hired the vice-president of a big multinational insurance company which is usinig the benefit cuts to boost its sales.

Overcoming the xenophobia to which he so often gives voice at Tory party conferences, Mr Lilley has appointed an American.

Founded in Portland, Maine, in 1848, the Unum Corporation describes itself as “the world’s leading light in disability insurance”. Unum Ltd, its British arm, is based in Dorking, Surrey. It issued its annual report last September, when chairman Ward E. Graffam enthused about “exciting developments” in Britain.

He explained: “the impending changes to the State ill-health benefits system heralded in the November 1993 Budget will create unique sales opportunities across the entire disability market and we will be launching a concerted effort to harness the potential in these”. In January, the full extent of Lilley’s plans to replace invalidity benefit with incapacity benefit revealed to the Commons. Estimated “savings” for the year 1995-1996 were £410 million; for 1996-97 £1.2 billion; and for 1997-98 an astonishing £1.7 billion.

Obviously, with so much less government money going to sick and disabled people, the opportunities for private disability insurance were enormous. No longer could people rely on benefit income if they became ill or disabled. They would have to fend for themselves. Accordingly, UNUM Ltd, as its chairman had promised, “launched a concerted effort to harness the potential”. In April this year, a glamorous and expensive advertising campaign coincided with the new rules for incapacity benefit.

One UNUM ad warned: “April 13, unlucky for some. Because tomorrow the new rules on state incapacity benefit announced in the 1993 autumn budget come into effect. Which means that if you fall ill and have to rely on state incapacity benefit, you could be in serious trouble”. Lurid tables estimating weekly outgoings for an average family at £276, and benefit under the new rules at £100, urged people to “protect yourself with a Long Term Disability policy from UNUM”.

Crucial to the new rules were tougher medical tests to find out if people really are incapacitated. The Benefits Agency Medical Services (BAMS) recruited a new corps of doctors to carry out new “all-work tests”. The basic change in the tests was simple. In the past, disabled or sick people were entitled to benefit if they could no longer do their job. From now on, people are entitled to benefit only if they can do no work at all.

The new medical tests were fundamental to the “savings” Lilley hoped for. If the tests were too lax – if doctors were allowed to slide into sentimental slackness in assessing peoples’ ability to do any work at all – the whole purpose of the tests would be thwarted. So Lilley’s department set up an “incapacity benefit medical valuation group” to “monitor and validate the quality standards for the doctors involved in the all-work assessments”.

The most famous member of the group is Dr John Le Cascio, second vice-president of the Unum Corporation, who has recently been seconded to the company’s British arm. Dr Le Cascio was also invited last year by Lilley’s department to help in the extensive training of doctors in the new techniques of testing. The DSS stresses that “the doctors don’t decide the incapacity benefit – that is done by an adjudication officer”. No doubt; but the officer makes a decision on the expert medical information provided by the tests.

No press release was issued about Dr Le Cascio’s appointment. No one told taxpayers that the DSS is shelling out £40,000 to Unum Ltd for D Le Cascio’s services in the year from October 1994 to September this year. A DSS spokeswoman explained: “this comes down basically to a daily rate of £440 a day. That’s cheap for a consultancy, actually.”

The Eye asked Dr Le Cascio if he agreed there was an absolutely obvious conflict of interest in his position as validator and monitor of tests for a benefit, the cutting of which was being exploited to the full by the advertisements for his company. He replied:

“Well, I don’t feel that way of course, and if I did I wouldn’t have accepted the job. I was brought in for a specific reason, and that is to teach some of the medical principles which are contained in the design of the new test – that’s what I do, that’s my area of expertise. I’m a technical person and I can do that. To me, there is no sort of conflict as long as I do that job. I feel comfortable doing it, and I assume that those n the department feel comfortable with my contribution. The reason they’ve turned to me is because the commercial insurers have been working with this sort of valuation system for a long time and that’s where the knowledge lies”.

And in that article you can see the origins of the whole modern benefits system. The use by the government of a private company, in this case Unum, that stands to profit from cuts to the welfare system and the recruitment of new corps of professionals by BAMS to make the tests more difficult. The only difference is that BAMS has now gone and been replaced by ATOS. It’s another example of the way Blair merely inherited and developed a system that was put forward by the Tories.

Graffam

Graffam

Lilley

Peter Lilley