Posts Tagged ‘Polly Toynbee’

Kenneth Surin on Media Bias, and the Tories Feasting while Millions Starve

April 21, 2017

Kenneth Surin, one of the contributors to Counterpunch, has written a piece giving his analysis of the obstacles facing Jeremy Corbyn in his battle with the right-wing media, the Blairites, and the Tories. He points out that the tabloids, with the exception of the Mirror, are solidly right-wing, or owned by the very rich, who will naturally be biased towards the Tories. The Groaniad is centre, or centre-left, but its hacks are largely Blairites, who will attack Corbyn. He suggests that some of this vilification comes from the fact that Corbyn is not a ‘media-age’ politicians, but speaks as ordinary people do, rather than in soundbites. He makes the point that the Tories have copied Blair in trying to promote a Thatcherism without Thatcher’s scowls and sneers, and so Labour has no chance electorally if it decides to promote the capitalist status quo. He notes that Labour lost Scotland to the SNP, partly because the SNP placed itself as rather more Social Democratic than Labour. As for Labour ‘rust-belt’ heartlands in the Midlands and North of England, he thinks their dejected electorates now find UKIP and its White nationalism more palatable. He also states that the less educated working class, abandoned by Labour’s careerist politicians, also find UKIP more acceptable.

He suggests that if Labour wants to win, it should have the courage to abandon Thatcherism, and also attack the millionaires that invaded the party during Blair’s and Miliband’s periods as leader. These, like the Cameron’s Chipping Norton set, are obscenely rich when 8 million people in this country live in ‘food-insecure households’. And he goes into detail describing just what luxurious they’re eating and drinking too, far beyond anyone else’s ability to afford. Artisanal gin, anyone?

He also recommends that Labour should embrace Brexit, as this would allow the country to get rid of the massive hold a corrupt financial sector has on the country.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/20/the-uk-general-election-corbyns-vilification-and-labours-possible-fight/

I agree with many of his points, but profoundly disagree on others. Promoting Brexit won’t break the dead hand of the financial sector over this country. Quite the opposite. It’s being promoted by the financial sector because it will allow them to consolidate their stranglehold on the British economy by making the country an offshore tax haven for plutocratic crims.

I also think he overestimates the electoral strength of UKIP. Since Brexit, they’ve been on their way down and out. Many of the people, who’ve voted Leave have since been aghast that they won. They only wanted to give the establishment a nasty shock. They did not really want to leave Europe. Also, UKIP at heart was a single-issue party. Alan Sked founded them to oppose European federalism. Now that the Leave campaign succeeded – sort of – they’re struggling to get votes, and have been going through leaders as though it was going out of fashion. They have tried to pick up votes through some very unpleasant racist and Islamophobic policies and statements by their leading members. This has contributed to a disgusting rise in racist incidents. However, UKIP’s electoral base tend to be those aged 50 and over. The younger generations are much less racist and prejudiced against gays. Please note: I realise that this is a generalisation, and that you can find racist youngsters, and anti-racist senior citizens. Indeed, it was the older generation that did much to change attitudes to race and sexuality in this country. So the demographics are against UKIP. Racism and White nationalism also won’t save them from defeat, at least, I hope. The blatantly racist parties – the BNP, NF, British Movement and the rest of the scum – failed to attract anything like the number of votes or members to be anything other than fringe parties, often with trivial numbers of members. One of the contributors to Lobster, who did his doctorate on the British Far Right after the 1979 election, suggested that the NF only had about 2000 members, of whom only 200 were permanent. Most of the people, who joined them were only interested in cracking down on immigration, not in the intricacies of Fascist ideology. Also, many right-wingers, who would otherwise have supported them, were put off by their violence and thuggery. One of the Tories, who briefly flirted with them in the early ’70s quickly returned to the Tory party, appalled at their violence. Since then, the numbers of people in the extreme right have continued to decline. As for UKIP, even in their heyday, their strength was greatly – and probably deliberately – exaggerated. Mike and others have shown that at the time the Beeb and the rest of the media were falling over themselves to go on about how wonderful UKIP were, they were actually polling less than the Greens.

But I agree with Surin totally when it comes to throwing out once and for all Thatcherism and its vile legacy of poverty and humiliation. He’s right about the bias of the media, and the massive self-indulgence of the Chipping Norton set.

Surin writes

The context for analyzing this election must first acknowledge that the UK’s media is overwhelmingly rightwing.

Only one tabloid, The Daily Mirror, avoids hewing to rightwingery.

Of the others, The Sun is owned by the foreigner Rupert Murdoch, known in the UK for good reasons as the “Dirty Digger”.

The Nazi-supporting and tax-dodging Rothermere family have long owned The Daily Mail.

Richard “Dirty Des” Desmond (the former head of a soft porn empire) owns The Daily Express.

A Russian oligarch owns The Evening Standard.

Of the so-called “quality” newspapers, only The Guardian is remotely centrist or centre-left.

All the other “quality” papers are owned by the right-wingers or those on the centre-right.

Murdoch owns The Times, basically gifted to him by Thatcher, who bypassed the usual regulatory process regarding media monopolies to bestow this gift. The Times, which used to be known in bygone days as “The Old Thunderer”, is now just a slightly upmarket tabloid.

The tax-dodging Barclay brothers own The Daily Telegraph.

Another Russian oligarch owns The Independent.

The BBC, terrified by the not so subtle Tory threats to sell it off to Murdoch, and undermined editorially by these threats, is now basically a mouthpiece of the Tories.

This situation has, in the main, existed for a long time.

The last left-wing leader of the Labour party, Michael Foot, was ruthlessly pilloried by the right-wing media in the early 1980s for all sorts of reasons (including the somewhat less formal, but very presentable, jacket he wore at the Cenotaph ceremony on Remembrance Sunday).

Every Labour leader since then, with exception of Tony Blair, has been undermined by the UK’s media. Blair’s predecessor, Neil Kinnock, was derided endlessly by the media (“the Welsh windbag”, etc), even though he took Labour towards the right and effectively prepared the ground for Blair and Brown’s neoliberal “New Labour”.

***
Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, has been vilified ever since he was elected as party leader by a percentage higher than that achieved by Blair when he was elected leader (59.5% versus Blair’s 57% in 1994).

The disparagement and backbiting of Corbyn has, alas, come from the Blairite remnant in his party as much as it has come from the Conservatives and their megaphones in the media.

But while this is to be expected, a powerful source of anti-Corbyn vituperation has been The Guardian, supposedly the most liberal UK newspaper. Its journalists– most notably Polly Toynbee, Jonathan Freedland, Suzanne Moore, Anne Perkins, and Owen Jones– have done as much as Murdoch to undermine Corbyn.

To some extent this viciousness on the part of the Blairite faction, and its media acolytes, is understandable. Corbyn, who voted against the war in Iraq, believes Blair should be in the dock of the international court at The Hague for war crimes. The Conservatives, always a war-loving party, want no such thing for Blair, even though he defeated them in 3 general elections. Blair however is a closet Conservative.
***
Labour needs to go on the attack, on two fronts especially.

The first is Thatcher’s baleful legacy, entrenched by her successors, which has been minimal economic growth, widespread wage stagnation, widening inequality as income has been transferred upwards from lower-tiered earners, mounting household debt, and the extensive deindustrialization of formerly prosperous areas.

At the same time, the wealthy have prospered mightily. Contrast the above-mentioned aspect of Thatcher’s legacy with the world of Dodgy Dave Cameron’s “Chipping Norton” social set, as described by Michael Ashcroft (a former Cameron adviser who fell out with Dodgy Dave) in his hatchet-job biography of Cameron. The following is quoted in Ian Jack’s review of Call Me Dave: “Theirs is a world of helicopters, domestic staff, summers in St Tropez and fine food from Daylesford, the organic farm shop owned by Lady Carole Bamford”.

The Tories and their supporters are partying away as a class war is being waged, and Labour has been too timid in bringing this contrast to the attention of the electorate: the Chipping Norton set feasts on Lady Carole’s organic smoked venison and artisanal gin (available to the online shopper at https://daylesford.com/), while UN data (in 2014) indicates that more than 8 million British people live in food-insecure households.

“New” Labour did have a credibility problem when it came to doing this– Ed Miliband had at least 7 millionaires in his shadow cabinet, and another 13 in his group of advisers. So, a fair number of Labour supporters are likely to be connoisseurs of Lady Carole’s luxury food items in addition to the usual bunch of Tory toffs.

The austere Corbyn (he is a vegetarian and prefers his bicycle and public transport to limousines) is less enamoured of the high life, in which case the credibility problem might not be such a big issue.

Organic, artisanal food, holidays in St. Tropez, helicopters, smoked venison – all this consumed at the same time as Dave and his chums were claiming that ‘we’re all in it together’. We weren’t. We never were.

And remember – many members of the media, including people like Jeremy Clarkson, were part of the Chipping Norton set. And some of the BBC presenters are paid very well indeed. Like John Humphries, who tweeted about how he was afraid Labour was ‘going to punish the rich.’

As he is benefitting from a massive shift in the tax burden from the rich to the poor, it’s fair to say that he, and the wealthy class of which he is a part, are literally feasting at the poor’s expense. Furthermore, the affluent middle and upper classes actually use more of the state’s resources than the poor. So Labour would not be ‘punishing the rich’ if they increased their share of the tax burden. They’d only be requiring them to pay their whack.

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Richard Seymour’s Refutation of Sexism Smears against Corbyn

April 14, 2017

A few days ago I put up a piece about Richard Seymour’s book Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics (London: Verso 2016). Seymour’s analysis of the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, and what it means for the Labour party, is very much his own. Seymour points out that one of the reasons why Corbyn was able to take the Labour leadership was because the right-wing Labour vote was divided between three opposing candidates. He sees the Labour party as never having really been a Socialist party, and that Corbyn’s election as leader was part of a process of political stagnation and degeneration both within the Labour party and generally in British politics.

However, in the introduction and first chapter, he does attack the ‘Project Fear’ campaign launched by the Blairites and the press against Corbyn, and refutes the smears against him – that he and his voters were unelectable and anti-Semitic. The Blairites and their toadies in the press also tried smearing Corbyn and his supporters as misogynists, just as Killary had smeared Sanders and his supporters in the US in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. And just as Killary’s smears against Sanders were lies, so were the accusations against Corbyn and his supporters. Seymour writes

One of the main methods of obloquy from the centre-left papers – aside from the claim that Corbyn’s supporters were either spaniel-eyed naifs, gently prancing around in cloud cuckoo land, or dangerous ideological zealots – was to bait Corbyn’s supporters as sexist. The Guardian had backed Yvette Cooper for the leadership, partially on the grounds that she would be the first female leader, bringing ‘down-to-earth feminism’ to the role, and challenging austerity policies that hurt women. Its leading columnist and former Social Democratic Party (SDP) star Polly Toynbee seconded the endorsement, announcing: ‘Labour needs a woman leader.’ This prompted a reply by the seasoned feminists Selma James and Nina Lopez, who pointed out that Cooper not only supported ‘sexist austerity’ but had also implemented it in government, abolishing income support and extending work-capability assessments for the sick and disabled. Nonetheless, having supported Cooper as a ‘feminist’, it didn’t require much imagination to notice that Corbyn was not female and thus to indict his supporters ‘brocialists’. Suzanne Moore complained that as Corbyn was ‘anointed leader’ – that is to say, elected leader – ‘not one female voice was heard’. The remarkable thing about this complaint was that Corbyn won among women by a landslide. The polls showed that 61 per cent of women eligible to vote in the election supported Corbyn, while the two female candidates, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper, gained 4 per cent and 19 per cent respectively. The polling company YouGov pointed out that ‘women who are eligible to vote are dramatically more likely to vote Corbyn than men’. What Moore meant was the she hadn’t listened to the women who supported Corbyn, an important distinction.

This campaign spread to the Independent,which published a surreal piece headlined, ‘If it’s truly progressive, Labour will have voted in a female leader – regardless of her policies’. It was also mirrored by the Telegraph, which gleefully wondered if Corbyn had a ‘women problem’. Cathy Newman, a Channel 4 News reporter who had recently made headlines by falsely reporting an example of sexist exclusion at a mosque, authored a piece for the Telegraph which sneered ‘Welcome to Jeremy Corbyn’s blokey Britain – where “brocialism” rules’. Newman’s complaint did not concern policy, on which Corbyn was difficult to attack, but representation. She alleged that none of the ‘top jobs’ went to women. Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, it must be said, was notable for being the first to have more than 50 per cent of its posts occupied by women – as opposed to the pathetic 22 per cent representation that women have in wider public life. The shadow ministries of Defence, Business, Health and Education were all run by women. The shadow cabinet was, in other words, more gender-egalitarian on this front than any previous Labour shadow cabinet. It is perfectly fair comment to lament that important posts such as shadow chancellor have never been held by a woman, but the force of the point is blunted if it is simply used in an opportunistic way to belabour Corbyn. Likewise, the New Statesman’s effort to pour cold water on Corbyn’s victory, with the headline ‘Labour chooses white man as leader’, would have been more convincing if the publication had not generously supported every previous white man elected as Labour leader.

(Pp.37-9).

From this it’s very clear that the accusation of sexism and misogyny against Corbyn were merely another opportunistic smear by a group of entitled, wealthy Blairites. It was monumentally hypocritical, as these women were perfectly happy with promoting policies that actively harmed – and under the Tories, are still harming women. The ladies, who supported Corbyn knew better, and voted for substance, rather than the specious feminism of a female candidate, who was only interested in promoting herself and not improving conditions for women as a whole.

Article on the Guardian’s Bias against Jeremy Corbyn

March 22, 2017

Michelle, one of the many great commenters on this blog, sent me the link to this article by Novara Media’s Alex Nunns, ‘How the Guardian Changed Tack on Corbyn, Despite Its Readers’. This describes the way the Guardian initially supported Corbyn, but only when it thought that he was an outside candidate, who was unlikely to win the Labour leadership election. When Corbyn did indeed win, the Guardian’s furious reaction was to publish a series of articles attacking the Labour leader for being too left-wing. The Groaniad’s companion paper, the Observer, also reacted with the same outrage. And despite the Groan’s claim to be an impartial observer in the Labour leadership contest, it ran articles strongly backing the contenders Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper.

The piece also discusses some of the individual hacks at the Groan attacking and sniping at Corbyn. These are Polly Toynbee, Michael White, Andrew Rawnsley and Jonathan Jones. It points out that Rawnsley had a personal interest in making sure the Blairites stayed in power: he had written several books on them, and they had given him privileged access and information. By challenging them, Corbyn was threatening to cut of his access to people at the centre of power. One of the other columnists, Patrick Wintour, may have had an even more personal reason for attacking Corbyn. Many on the Left believe that ‘Wintour’ is the nom de plume of Peter Mandelson. As for Jones, his article was almost bug-eyed with hysteria. He described how he joined the Communist party when he was a student, but abandoned it when he saw the reality of life in the Soviet Union for himself, noting that the Soviet regime killed 6m under Stalin. Corbyn, he decided, represented this kind of totalitarian government. He then started trying to defend the free market by saying that ‘markets are human’. Well, so are many things. But they are also subject to manipulation, and do not necessarily bring wealth to the majority of the population. Thatcherite trickle-down economics don’t work in practice. As for Corbyn himself, this is the standard Red scare the Right has been running against Socialism and the Left since the days of the Zionviev Letter. They ran it again under Thatcher against Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and about 30 other Left Labour MPs in the 1980s. I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that Corbyn is a Marxist, or that he wanted absolute nationalisation. But it just shows how far the Labour right has been infected with the Neoliberal virus.

Jones is also guilty of a bit of holocaust minimalisation in his article as well. The Soviet Union under Stalin didn’t kill 6m Soviet citizens. It murdered about 30 million, at least 8m in Ukraine alone during the manufactured famine in the collectivisation of agriculture.

The article notes that Guardian is convinced Labour needs to keep to the centre-ground, but doesn’t understand how this has changed and will change in the future. It also acknowledges that there are many left-wing columnists on the Groan. However, their presence ironically supports the dominant bias against Corbyn, as it allows the newspaper to present their opinions as views, which have been heard and then discarded. It makes the point that the newspaper has absolutely no understanding why people support Corbyn, including 78 per cent of its own readers, nor the way the media itself shapes public opinion. Nunns states that the best comment on this came from Frankie Boyle, who observed

“It’s worth remembering that in the press, public opinion is often used interchangeably with media opinion, as if the public was somehow much the same as a group of radically right wing billionaire sociopaths.”

http://novaramedia.com/2017/01/08/how-the-guardian-changed-tack-on-corbyn-despite-its-readers/

More on Progress, the Groaniad, and the Israel Lobby

September 27, 2016

Lobster 70 also had some very interesting little snippets about the Israel lobby, and its connections to sections of the Labour party and the press, specifically ‘Progress’, and the Guardian.

‘Progress’ is the Blairite faction within the Labour party. In ‘Tittle-Tattle’ for that issue, Tom Easton praises Solomon Hughes in the Morning Star for his work investigating and exposing Progress and its dodgy donors. Hughes had written about the close connection between Tristram Hunt and David Sainsbury. As I’ve blogged previously, Sainsbury was a big corporate donor to the Labour party under Blair and Brown. He stopped funding the party as a whole when Ed Miliband became leader, but, according to Hughes, he continued funding Progress. Just as he continued funding the SDP rump under Dr David Owen after the rest of it had merged with the Liberals. One of the SDP’s members was Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee.

In November 2014 Hughes described Hunt’s speech at the previous Labour Conference, in which he made a joke about the secretive and numerically small nature of the faction, which did not go down well with the Progress hordes. He wrote

‘When I went to the Progress rally at the last Labour conference, Tristram Hunt was one of the speakers, where he declared he was “delighted to be with Progress” because “you might be an unaccountable faction dominated by a secretive billionaire, but you are OUR unaccountable faction dominated by a secretive billionaire”.

Here were two dozen true words spoken in jest. Hunt’s joke was so close to the bone that the shiny happy people of Progress — this is one of the biggest events on Labour’s fringe — seemed embarrassed into silence.

Hunt’s insistence that Progress was “the Praetorian Guard, the Parachute Regiment, the Desert Rats of Labour” also raised few laughs, even though the meeting took place in a Comedy Club at the edge of the Labour conference site. Even joking that Progress is new Labour’s shock troops was a bit too much.’

One of Progress’ board members is Patrick Diamond, who is a long-time associated of Peter Mandelson. He is the Vice-Chair of Mandy’s Policy Network, as well as frequently contributing columns to the Guardian. Progress’ president is Stephen Twigg, a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel. Progress’ chair, John Woodcock, the MP for Barrow and Furness, contributed the foreword to the Labour Friends of Israel’s The Progressive Case for Israel. And when it seemed Liz Kendall was about to don the mantle of leadership for New Labour, she got a positive press from the Jewish Chronicle. The week after Labour lost the election, the newspaper ran the headline, ‘Labour Must Now Pass the Israel Test’. Which shows just how close New Labour is to the Israel lobby. And in another item in the same column, Easton states that another former chairman of the LFI is Jim Murphy, the head of Scottish Labour. Which sheds yet more light on his determination to block Rhea Wolfson’s attempts to get on to the NEC. Murphy persuaded her local Labour party not to back her because of her links to that terrible anti-Semitic organisation, Momentum, despite the fact that they’re not, and Wolfson herself is Jewish.

A further item, ‘Grauniada’, also comments that that the Graun’s connections to Zionism goes back ‘to the early days of both’, noting that the newspaper itself had told the story of its relationship with Israel in 2008 when it published Daphna Baram’s Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel. The same item also notes that Jonathan Freedland, one of the leading critics of Jeremy Corbyn, is also a columnist for the Jewish Chronicle.

All this shows the very strong connections between New Labour, the Labour Friends of Israel, and the Jewish Chronicle, and how they are absolutely united in their hatred of Jeremy Corbyn.

The same item in Lobster also speculates on how long the connection between the Graun and Zionism will survive, now that the new editor-in-chief is Katherine Viner. Viner and Alan Rickman produced a theatre production based on the diary entries and writings of Rachel Corrie. Corrie was the American peace activist, who was killed by bulldozer driven by the Israeli Defence Force in Gaza in 2003.

There’s also another section in that part of the magazine specifically about the Israel lobby. Most of the politicians reported in that item, ‘Israel Lobby News’, are Conservatives and Lib Dems, such as Eric Pickles, Nick Clegg’s head of communications, James Sorene, who went off to head BICOM, while local councillors elected in May that year were invited to join the Local Government Friends of Israel by Rachel Kaye, the Executive Director of We Believe in Israel. Kaye stated that the director of We Believe in Israel was Luke Akehurst, a former Labour councillor for Hackney, and had worked with Peter Mandelson’s former press secretary in the PR and lobbying firm Weber Shandwick.

Vox Political: The Canary on the Real Reason the Political Class Hates Jeremy Corbyn

July 4, 2016

Mike yesterday put up a very interesting piece from Kerry-Ann Mendoza of The Canary. Mendoza believes that the real reason the political class hates and fears Corbyn is partly explained as the result of the Blairite’s attempts to isolate the trade unions and consolidate the dominance of the right within the Labour party. The Blairites adopted a new leadership election process, in the hope that this would bring into the party new members, who were to the right of the trade unions. Instead, it brought in people who were well to the left. This panicked Harriet Harman and self-styled media pundits and commentators like Polly Toynbee, who despise genuine Social Democrats. As a result, they tried to purge these new members as infiltrators. The result of all this is that the grassroots party is going to have a real hand in formulating party policy, and not just the Front Bench. It will also mean that Labour will start again connecting with workers, the unions and disenfranchised groups to start campaigns that could tear the Tories apart.

She states further that

The permanent political class is facing the most real and present threat to their power since 1979. They are going to throw every weapon in their armoury at ensuring that doesn’t happen. But none of those weapons is more powerful than a tight-knit, grass roots movement with its eye on shared vision of an inspiring future. They don’t fear Corbyn because he might be unelectable, they fear him because he, and the movement he represents, might be unstoppable.

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/03/the-real-reason-the-permanent-political-class-is-trying-to-topple-jeremy-corbyn/ and follow the links to the original article.

This very much sounds as if its right. Lobster in their review of one of the biographies of Bliar that came out a few years ago stated that he had the public schoolboy’s hatred of the unions. Absolutely. One of the first things the smarmy warmonger threatened to do was cut the parties ties with the unions. As the Labour party was partly founded by the trade unions to protect their right to strike after the Taff Vale judgement, and to ensure that working people were represented in parliament, this move would have been an attack on the very core and raison d’etre of the Labour party. It’s also a major part of the Blairites’ adoption of the anti-labour attitudes of the Conservatives. The Tories, as representatives of the ruling classes, despise and fear the trade unions. Owen Jones in his book, Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, notes that Thatcher hated the working class, whom she saw as treacherous and untrustworthy. Much Conservative rhetoric consists of holding the trade unions to account for the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1979, blaming them for causing economic chaos from which only Thatcher and her union-busting could deliver Britain. It’s largely rubbish. People were alienated from the unions because of some of the strikes, but several historians have also pointed out that Britain in the 1970s wasn’t any more prone to strikes than many other nations, and that many of those, which broke out were entirely justified. Nevertheless, it’s a rhetoric drum that the Tories insist on beating.

At the same time, the Blairites and the political do not like any political activity by the masses that they cannot stage manage and control. New Labour was notorious for this, using public relations and spin to try and stage popular demonstrations of loyalty and support for Blair. They’ve now resorted to the same tricks to smear Corbyn and his left-wing supporters. See the heckling of Corbyn by Tom Mauchline, not a Labour supporter but a fully paid PR goon from Portland Communications, the PR company owned by Jack Straw’s son. And then there’s the ‘hateful’ T-shirt, urging the eradication of Blairites, which was actually dreamed up by Anna Philips, another Blairite, and another PR goon.

Blairite New Labour, and his successor, Progress, is profoundly fake, and despises conviction politics. They stand for the privileges and profits of the corporate big wigs, who give them donations. Just as their pet journos on the Left, and, it goes without saying, the cheerleaders for the Tories and big business on the Right, like Andrew Neil, Nick Robinson and Laura Kuenssberg.

And so the campaign to marginalise and belittle Corbyn and his supporters with vilification, lies and distortion similar to Goebbels and the propagandists of the USSR.

Graduate Underemployment Today and in 19th Century Germany

March 19, 2014

Graduate Jobs diagram

Diagram of the various sectors of the economy employing graduates. The vast majority are ‘jobs graduates end up doing’.

Taken from ‘Graduates Aren’t What They Used To Be’ at http://www.workcomms.com/graduates/whitepapers/graduates/.

Yesterday’s I newspaper carried an article about the massive underemployment of educated workers, including graduates. These were workers performing jobs for which they were too highly qualified. In some parts of the North, the article stated, the number of skilled and educated workers in lower skilled jobs was around 50 per cent.

I am not remotely surprised. There has been a massive expansion in further and higher education from 1980s onwards. During Tony Blair’s administration, approving Fleet Street columnists like Polly Toynbee saw this as a major positive step. Britain was not only going to be better educated, but this would provide the skilled, intellectual workforce of tomorrow to fuel British industry. Computer skills in particular were in great demand, and there was much optimistic talk about the immense value of the knowledge economy. All this was, of course, just before the Dot.com bubble exploded, thus following in the long line of massively over-hyped investments schemes like the South Sea bubble and John Law’s Louisiana scheme. The only difference with that those was that instead of the being in some remote part of the Earth, the property being developed was in cyberspace.

In all of this there seems to have been little thought to how these graduates were going to be employed afterwards, nor how they were supposed to create the expected new jobs. It seems to have been simply assumed that the clerical, managerial or entrepreneurial sectors of industry would expand to take them on.

This simply did not occur, so that instead, educated, often highly educated people were forced to find work for which they were overqualified, simply to put food on the table. The SF novelist, Spider Robinson, in the foreword to his collection of short stories, Callaghan’s Crazy Crosstime Bar, describes how the only job he could get after leaving Uni was as a nightwatchman at a building site ‘Looking at a hole in the ground to make sure nobody stole it’. Other graduates have found themselves flipping burgers. Not only are these jobs wasting their talents, but the entry of graduates into them has put additional employment pressure on low qualified workers, for whom this is only type of job they can do.

The German Socialist leader Karl Kautsky remarked on a similar process occurring in late 19th century Germany. He remarked on the way the industrialisation of the country from feudalism to capitalism had encouraged the expansion of higher education. However, the new generation of graduates found that the expansion of education had deprived them of their privileged status, and they became white-collar workers, members of the working class. Kautsky wrote

Clearly the capitalist mode of production requires a massive intelligentsia. The educational facilities of the feudal state were incapable of catering for that need. Thus the bourgeois regime has always been in favour of improving and expanding not only elementary but also higher education. This was supposed to promote not only the development of production, but also to lessen class conflict; given that higher education was a way of gaining access to the professional world, it seemed self-0evident that the universal expansion of higher education would integrate the proletariat into the bourgeoisie.

But the bourgeois standard of life only becomes a necessary correlate of higher education when the latter is a privilege. When it becomes universal, far from integrating the proletariat into the bourgeoisie, it degrades him to a ‘white-collar worker’, to a proletarian. That too is one of the manifestations of the immiseration of the mass of people.

He then proceeds to describe how the intelligentsia of his day tried to block the entry into higher education of underprivileged groups, like women, Jews and the working class.

The strongest opposition to the education of women is expressed by university professors and students, and by the leading scientists. It is they who exclude the Jewish intelligentsia from all competition for position in the professional world, and who go to great lengths to make higher education more expensive and hence inaccessible to the poor.

Karl Kautsky, ‘The Revisionist Controversy’ in Patrick Goode, Karl Kautsky: Selected Writings (London: Macmillan 1983) 20.

The situation in Britain today is almost completely the opposite. There are now more women at university than men, and there are a number of campaigns to encourage women to take up traditionally male-dominated subjects, like engineering and science. Furthermore, most universities are extremely keen to encourage enrolment by members of ethnic or religious minorities. Furthermore, when student fees were introduced, the universities were worried that it would lead to education becoming the preserve of a privileged few. University administrators, in my experience, have also welcomed the greater opportunity of people from less privileged groups to go to university.

However, the massive expansion of tuition fees by the Tories and their Tory Democrat allies certainly seems to indicate that they see higher education as something that should remain the exclusive privilege of the upper and upper middle classes. Unable to oppose openly the idea that university education should be open to more than just a narrow elite, it appears that Cameron and Clegg, both blue-blooded aristos, are trying to price it out of the reach of the working and lower middle classes.

They also seem to see students as a further reservoir of debt slaves. With student debt now going up to 27,000 or more, I did read recently of the Coalition plan to sell their debts to private industry. Where once upon a time education was free, now it seems that not only is it extremely expensive, but students themselves are seen as a lucrative investment by the insurance industry.

In Germany graduate and university discontent led eventually to strong support for the Nazi party in the last years of the Weimar period and the years of the Nazi seizure of power. In Britain very few graduates have any sympathy for the Fascist radical Right, and racism and militant anti-feminism would not be welcome. Instead there is growing graduate poverty and discontent, as former students join their less-skilled fellows in poorly paid, unrewarding jobs, with the additional worries about paying off their student debt. Their needs should also be addressed by the politicos along with the rest of the working population. Unfortunately, as Tony Benn remarked about Maggie’s prime ministry,

Despite the fact that we have been told that this is an entrepreneurial society, Britain has an utter contempt for skill. If one talks to people who dig coal and drive trains, or to doctors, nurses, dentists or toolmakers, one discovers that no one in Britain is interested in them. The whole of the so-called entrepreneurial society is focused on the City news that we get in every bulletin which tells us what has happened to £ sterling to three decimal points against the basket of European currencies. Skill is what built this country’s strength, but it has been treated with contempt.

There is an immense reservoir of talent, which is vastly underused in this country. For all the talk about expanding the knowledge economy, promoting science and creating a workforce with the skills needed by industry, there is little interest in actually using such a skilled workforce, and the Tory attitude seems to regard them merely as a suitably remunerative investment for the insurance industry. This has to change. We should be creating a nation, which can and does employ such people, or develop schemes by which they themselves can create the industries for which they have skills. I cannot see this happening under a government that sees no value in education beyond its monetary value, and indeed even views it as a threat when in the hands of anyone outside the privileged ranks of the aristocratic few.

I’ve taken the words of the speech from Another Angry Voice’s post, Tony Benn and Neoliberal Orthodoxy. This article, and other quotations from the speech, is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/tony-benn-and-neoliberal-orthodoxy.html.

Alternatively, a video of the speech can also be seen at Guy Debord’s Cat’s post ‘There’s only One Tony Benn’, which is at http://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/theres-only-one-tony-benn/.

Poverty Journalism and the Media Patronisation of the Poor

March 9, 2014

Thackeray Snob Cover

W.M. Thacheray’s The Book of Snobs (Alan Sutton 1989)

I’ve just reblogged Jaynelinney’s article criticising the media’s use of the poor as a kind of zoo, who can be patronised on camera by visits from ostensibly well-meaning celebrities and TV producers, expressing concerns about their plight. Her piece was inspired by the article, to which she links, in ‘Independent Voices’ in the Indie, about how the middle classes have been regularly traipsing into slums and working class poverty to see how the ‘other half’ live for almost 200 years now. That article mentions, amongst others, Henry Mayhew, the author of London Labour and the London Poor, and George Orwell’s classic, The Road to Wigan Pier, as well as more recent works by Polly Toynbee. Orwell comes in for something of a bashing as he undertook his journey to the heart of industrial darkness as a journo in search of a subject, not as a social campaigner. The book that followed annoyed a member of the National Unemployed Union so much, that he wrote his own book, tracing the journey in reverse, so that he travelled from the depressed areas to the leafy suburbs of Epsom. For the writer of the Independent article, what we need are fewer middle class writers patronising the working class, and more working class writers casting acerbic, jaundiced prose and writing at the Middle and Upper classes and their lives of wealth and luxury.

Thackeray and Snobs, Ancient and Modern

This would, actually, be an interesting experiment, and could produce something really radical. In the hands of a good writer, it could produce something like Thackeray’s The Book of Snobs, but with added social bite. Thackeray was, of course, solidly middle class, and certainly didn’t deny it. The book is subtitled ‘By One of Themselves’. It was originally published by Punch, when it was still slightly subversive, more like Private Eye today than the eminently respectable, establishment organ it later became. Each chapter describes a particular class of snob, who were defined as ‘someone who meanly admires mean things’. Reading it I was struck by how modern it still sounds, despite having first seen print in 1846-7. For example, Thackeray’s chapter on ‘University Snobs’ has this to say about the ‘Philosophical Snob’.

The Philosophical Snob of the 1840s and Their Modern University Descendants

Then there were Philosophical Snobs, who used to ape statesmen at the spouting-clubs, and who believed as a fact that Government always had an eye on the University for the selection of orators for the House of Commons. There were audacious young free-thinkers, who adored nobody or nothing, except perhaps Robespierre and the Koran, and panted for the day when the pale name of priest should shrink and dwindle away before the indignation of an enlightened world.

If you think of the earnest young people, who discovered radical politics at university, or who joined the Student Union and the various political associations with a view to starting a career in politics, or simply read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Uni before joining the staff of an MP on graduation as a researcher, then Thackeray’s description above actually isn’t that different from what goes on today. Robespierre, of course, was the leader of the dreaded Committee for Public Safety, responsible for killing hundreds of thousands during the French Revolution in the name of republicanism, democracy and Deism, so you can easily see a parallel there between the snobs earnestly reading his works, and some of the radicals in the 1960s, who joined the various Communist parties and loudly hailed Mao’s Little Red Book. As for the free-thinkers, who used to toast the day when the last king would be strangled in the bowels of the last priest, that reminds me of the various atheist and secularist societies that sprang up on campuses a few years ago, all talking earnestly about the threat of religion to science and quoting Richard Dawkins and Lewis Wolpert.

the Upper Classes at Uni, and the Perils of their Lower Class Imitators

But it is the poor university students who try to copy their far wealthier social superiors, about whom Thackeray is most scathing. He states:

But the worst of all University Snobs are those unfortunates who go to rack and ruin from their desire to ape their betters. Smith becomes acquainted with great people at college, and is ashamed of his father the tradesman. Jones has fine acquaintances, and lives after their fashion like a gay free-hearted fellow as he is, and ruins his father, and robs his sister’s portion, and cripples his younger brother’s outset in life, for the pleasure of entertaining my lord, and riding by the side of Sir John And though it may be very good fun for Robinson to fuddle himself at home as he does at College, and to be brought home by the policeman he has just been trying to knock down-think what fun for the poor old soul his mother!-the half-pay captain’s widow, who has been pinching herself all her life long, in order that that jolly young fellow might have a university education.

Unfortunately, little also seems to have changed here in the last nearly 170 year since Thackeray wrote that. I did some voluntary work a few weeks ago for M Shed here in Bristol. Many of the other volunteers were also university students and graduates, who were hoping to find a career in museum work. Discussing the country’s problems, one older lady stated very forcefully that the problem was that none of the country’s leaders now came from the working class. Just about everyone agreed with her on this point. One of the university students made the point very many have also made, about politicians coming directly from Oxford, where they studied PPE, and haven’t done a proper day’s work in their lives. The girl told us that one of her friends, who was ‘a little bit posh’, had gone to Oxford and been shocked at how dominated it was by the aristocracy. And have I heard of students, who have managed to irritate their fellows by copying the manners of Oxford upper crust.

Domination of Society by the Upper Classes, regardless of Merit

As for the chapter ‘What Snobs Admire’, where Thackeray describes the life and career of a fictional snob, Lord Buckram, who goes and gets flogged at Eton, studies at Oxford, and then marries well on graduation to a rich heiress, before taking his place among the gilded youth. Thackeray could be describing modern snobbery in all its pomp today, especially, but not exclusively, amongst the cabinet:

Suppose he is a young nobleman of a literary turn, and that he published poems ever so foolish and feeble; the Snobs would purchase thousands of his volumes: the publishers (who refused my Passion-Flowers, and my grand Epic at any price) would give him his own. Suppose he is a nobleman of a jovial turn, and has a fancy for wrenching off knockers, frequenting gin-shops, and half murdering policemen: the public will sympathize good-naturedly with his amusements, and say he is a hearty, honest fellow. Suppose he is fond of play and the turf, and has a fancy to be a blackleg, and occasionally condescends to pluck a pigeon at cards; the public will pardon him, and many honest people will court him, as they would court a housebreaker if he happened to be a Lord. Suppose he is an idiot; yet, by the glorious constitution, he is good enough to govern us. Suppose he is an honest, high-minded gentleman; so much the better for himself. But he may be an ass, and yet respected; or a ruffian, and yet be exceeding popular; or a rogue, and yet excuses will be found for him. Snow sill still worship him. Male snobs will do him honour, and females look kindly on him, however hideous he may be.

Snobbishness Revived, and Britain Going Back to 19th century

This just about describes the social privileges and the expectations of immediate public deference of the entire Tory front bench. All this was, of course, supposed to have been done away in the ‘white heat’ of the ’60s, when, along with the development of new technology, and new classlessness was supposed to have swept through the nation. Well, that may have been the case then, but things have since gone backwards. There are now fewer Labour MPs, who come from a working class background, than there were before the ’60s. Hugh Massingberd, in one of his essays in the Times in the 1980s, celebrated the revival of the fortunes of the aristocracy and the country house under Maggie Thatcher as ‘a new social restoration’. The Libertarians have emerged from out of the Union of Conservative Students to preach Von Hayek and Von Mises’ revival of classical economics, with all its faults, with the exception that in general the 19th century economists approved of trade unions. Well, the new classlessness of the 1960s has thoroughly died down, and the Coalition is leading us forward into the 19th century.