Posts Tagged ‘Prisons’

Just Who Is Responsible for the Tory Downgrading Algorithm?

August 17, 2020

Mike and Zelo Street have both put up excellent articles tearing apart the Tories in England for their massive class bias and signal incompetence over the ‘A’ level exam results. Yeah, Boris and his cabinet of grotesquely overprivileged ex-public school boys and girls are now doing a screeching U-turn, but this in response to the massive public outcry and dissatisfaction from their own benches. The public is getting the message that the Tories hate everyone below the centre middle classes. The Tories really  believe that the best opportunities and places right across society from industrial management, the arts, education and science, housing, healthcare, leisure and just about anything else they can get their hands on should go to the wealthy children of the upper and upper middle classes. The people, who have received exorbitantly expensive private educations at the elite schools. The same people, who, non-coincidentally, supply a good few of the Blairite MPs in the Labour Party and the Blairites and Liberals, who attacked Corbyn’s Labour Party in what passes for the left-wing press, most notably the Groan, Absurder, and the I. The lower orders – the working and lower middle classes – are there to work in the manual trades and in the lower grade office work. But despite all the loud Tory braying about creating a classless England, a meritocracy where anyone can rise from the humblest origins through talent and hard work, the reality is that the Tories are staunchly behind the traditional British class system.

Owen Jones has a very revealing anecdote about how naked this class hatred is behind closed doors. In his book Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class, he describes how an unnamed Tory MP, speaking at a university Tory gathering behind closed doors, told his audience, ‘This is class war. And we started it.’ And in the 1990s Private Eye supplied further evidence in their literary reviews. One of these was in Danny Danziger’s Eton Voices, which consisted of a set of interviews with old Etonians. The anonymous reviewer was not impressed, describing just how smug, complacent and self-satisfied they were. One of the interviewees was an Anglican bishop, who confessed to only having respect for other old Etonians. He said that if he found out someone didn’t go to the old school, he felt that it somehow counted against them in some obscure fashion. The Eye’s reviewer wasn’t remotely surprised, and made it clear that they thought that attitude really counted against old Etonians and their school. I don’t think the bias is necessarily conscious either. It’s just there in their whole upbringing, which they imbibe with their mothers’ milk and the very air they breathe.

And because education is one of the keys to social success, the Tories have been keen to use it as a political football and find whatever way they can to stop children from working and lower middle class backgrounds challenging them. There has been survey after survey that has shown that the education ordinary children receive in state schools is actually broader and better, and that they actually outperform their social superiors at university. I’ve remember the results of such studies appearing from the 1990s. But a decade earlier, there were rumblings from the Tories about bring back the 11 +. You remember, the old exam that went out with the comprehensive schools. The one everyone took when they were 11, and which immediately decided whether they went to a grammar school to receive an academic education, or went instead to the secondary moderns to learn a trade. It was scrapped, along with the grammar schools, because it heavily discriminated against working people. They were largely sent to the secondary moderns while the more privileged children of middle class homes got into the grammar schools.

The Tory algorithm looks very much like a similar device, just done through the backdoor. Because in meritocratic, Thatcherite Britain, we’re all supposed to be classless ‘One Nation’ Tories. Well, as Rab C. Nesbitt could remark, they’ve certainly done their job. ‘Cause to paraphrase the great guerrilla philosopher of the underclass, there’s no class in this country any more.

Gavin Williamson is rightly receiving stick for this debacle, and angry parents, teachers and students, not to mention some Tories, are demanding his job. But Zelo Street this evening has asked Carole Cadwalladr’s further question, equally important: who was responsible for the creation of this computer programme in the first place?

He writes

After James Doleman made the obvious point – that Nicola Sturgeon’s swift admission looks better with each passing day, especially as Bozo tried to get away with it, only to be forced to back down – there was only one more question, and that is, as Carole Cadwalladr put it, “Does anyone know who built the algorithm?” Don’t all shout at once.

Because whoever has their paw prints on that part of the fiasco should have some explaining to do, but in a Government where nobody resigns, there won’t be any. But there will be the distinct impression that someone has sanctioned yet another waste of taxpayer funds on a gizmo that caused rather more problems than it solved.

It’s a good question. Zelo Street himself suggests that it might be someone not unconnected to the poisonous Cummings. Well, he is a Social Darwinist, who was prepared to  let the country’s elderly die from the Coronavirus just in order to save the economy. But you also wonder if the company responsible for the algorithm also was connected to the Tories. They’ve had form in giving government contracts to their pet firms, whose management either includes members of the party, or which donates to them. And who have massively failed in their responsibilities. Like the private company that was supposed to take over from the state the provision of PPE to our brave, dedicated and caring medical professionals. Or what about the ‘world-beating’ test and trace programme, which is now being drastically scaled back because it, like the government that commissioned it, isn’t really fit for purpose.

Or is it one of the delightful private companies to which the government have been outsourcing services that should be provided by the state. Companies like Serco, G4S, Maximus, Capita and all the rest that have been delivering failure and rubbish for over thirty years, ever since they were invited in by the Tories in the late ’80s or early ’90s. At one time there was at least one article every fortnight in Private Eye about this clowns. Capita were so incompetent that the Eye awarded them the nickname ‘Crapita’. They started off with contracts to provide IT services, which were just about always behind schedule, over budget and sometimes so dire that they had to be scrapped. But for some reason they failed upwards, and were immediately given more contracts. And the outsourcing companies have gone on to dig themselves further into the infrastructure of government, with worse results. Like ATOS and Maximus manufacturing reasons to throw genuinely disabled people off the benefits they so desperately need, because the Tories and Tony Blair have decided that a certain percentage must be malingerers. The rioting against appalling conditions in our wonderful, privately run prisons and detention centres for asylum seekers. G4S in the ’90s managed to make themselves a laughing stock when a consignment of prisoners they were escorting to trial broke out and escaped. Are these same companies – or  one similar – also responsible for this unjust, odious algorithm?

Zelo Street doubts we’ll ever know the answer. He’s probably right. The Tories are very keen to protect their failures, and would probably argue that the information is too professionally sensitive to be divulged. Just like they’ve done with other private companies involved in government business, like all the private healthcare providers angling for NHS contracts.

This isn’t good enough. Williamson should go, and the company behind the algorithm should be named, shamed and its contract cancelled.

But I very much doubt that the Tories will take that step. Just remember the old saying

‘Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’.

To which you could add that there are also a fair number of the morally parentless on the Tory benches.

See also: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/08/benevolent-bozos-badly-bungled-u-turn.html

19 Years Ago Private Eye Revealed New Labour Plans to Privatise NHS and Education

July 24, 2020

One of the good aspects of Private Eye that has kept me reading it – just about – is the way it has covered the deep and pernicious connections between the political parties and big business. And in their issue for 15th-28 June 2001, right at the beginning of Blair’s second term in government, the Eye revealed his plans to privatise the NHS and the education system in the article ‘How the New Government Will Work’. This ran

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are in two minds: should they privatise the entire delivery of public services or just some of it? To help them decide they are consulting the best minds money can buy.

For a start, Downing Street has a report from the Blairite Institute for Public Policy Research. It recommends that private firms deliver health and education on the widest possible scale. The report, a final paper from IPPR’s “Commission on Public Private Partnerships”, claims that “the crucial ingredient that the private sector possesses and the public sector needs is management.”

The report was paid for by the Serco “institute”, a front for the firm which privately runs a slew of Britain’s prisons and immigration detention centres, including the grim “Doncatraz” Doncaster gaol. Serco failed to win the air traffic control privatisation precisely because of worries about its management.

The report was also supported by Nomura, Japanese bank with a big interest in private finance initiative-style (PFI) deals: Nomura’s management of army housing under PFI has been lamentable. KPMG chipped in to support the report as well. It is not a disinterested party either. KPMG advised on 29 hospital PFI schemes, and many other deals outside health.

The giant accountant’s role in these hospital sell-offs has only come under indepdent scrutiny once: at Dartford and Gravesham hospital. The national audit office (NAO) found that, despite KPMG’s “healthcare” advice, the new hospital probably made no financial saving but did cut beds drastically. KPMG’s own fees were originally tendered at £152,000. It finally billed the NHS for £960,000. For good measure, the Norwich Union, which also put millions in PFI, invested in the IPPR report too.

Martin Taylor, chancellor Brown’s friend who used to run Barclays Bank, acted as “commissioner” in drawing up the IPPR’s advice. He is perfectly suited to the job: as an adviser to Goldman Sachs he is in the pay of a multinational bank which wants to make a profit out of Britain’s poor. Goldman Sachs is involved in PFI: it originally funded the PFI buy-out of all Britain’s dole offices.

As the “honorary secretary” of the Bilderberg group, Taylor is also involved in the secretive corporate schmoozing of big name politicians (he signed up for Bilderberg originally alongside Peter Mandelson). And when he ran Barclays, he showed his “secret ingredient” was disastrous management. Under his stewardship the bank lost £250m gambling in Russian financial markets, and had to stump up £300m to bail out the absurd American “hedge fund”, Long Term Capital Markets.

Eventually Taylor was ousted by a boardroom battle in November 1998 before he could cause more damage. Now he’s decided to help the public sector.

The treasury meanwhile wants to take a second look at IPPR’s prediction about the efficiency of privatisation. In particular chancellor Brown wants to test the idea that the private sector gets greater productivity out of employers through “reskilling”, “efficient shift systems and better motivation” – rather than low pay, poor conditions, long hours and casualisation.

To test the theory he will commission a study by the Office of Government Commerce. This office in turn also has a private manager: Peter Gershon, Britain’s highest paid civil servant on £180,000 a year, plus performance benefits and a three-year contract.

He was formerly chief operating officer at British Aerospace. But far from being expert in efficiency, BAe is best at massive cost overruns, project failures and non-competitive tendering. The managers in charge of the Tornado, Bowman Radio and Type 45 destroyer programmes – all plagued with late delivery and technical problems – reported directly to Gershon.

Since then, Serco have become notorious for their massive inefficiency and the inhuman conditions at the prisons and detention centres they run. One of the most notorious of the latter was Yarl’s Wood, which was so atrocious the asylum seekers rioted. And I don’t think that was only one either. I also remember the outrage that the government’s sale of the army barracks to Nomura caused.

Goldman Sachs and Lehmann’s Bank caused the 2008 world banking crash, ushering over two decades of cuts and austerity, which has made conditions for the poor even more worse. For those who are managing to survive the low pay, monstrous levels of debt, and the almost non-existent welfare state. This has forced millions of people onto food banks to keep body and soul together, and hundreds of thousands are suffering from starvation, or ‘food poverty’ as the media now delicately put it. And I forget what the death toll from this is, it’s so high.

As for low pay, poor conditions and job insecurity – that all increased under Gordon Brown, and has increased even more so under the Tories, as it all keeps the working woman and man down, cowed and fearful, in her and his place.

And the Bilderbergers will be familiar to anyone interested in conspiracy theories. They were some of the ‘Secret Rulers of the World’ covered by Jon Ronson in his documentary series on Channel 4 of the same name.

I dare say some of the names involved in the privatisation agenda has changed, but you can bet it’s all going to come in with Starmer, despite his retention of Corbyn’s election manifesto. ‘Cause that was popular. Now it looks like he’ll undermine it by starting to ignore it.

And we’re back to Blairite misery, despair, poverty and starvation again. Except for the multinationals and their utterly talentless managers. It all looks pretty good for them.

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Three

May 16, 2020

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

Socialism and Marriage, Children, Liberty and Religion

Shaw also discusses what socialism would mean for marriage, liberty, children and the churches, and these are the most problematic sections of the book. He looks forward to marriage being a purely voluntary commitment, where people people can marry for love instead of financial advancement. This will produce biologically better children, because people will be able to choose the best partners, rather than be limited to only those from their class. At the same time incompatible partners will be able to divorce each other free of stigma.

He defines liberty in terms of personal freedom. Under socialism, people will be freer because the amount of time they will have for their personal amusement and recreation will be greater. Legislation might go down, because the laws currently needed to protect people will become unnecessary as socialism is established and society advances. Shaw also believes that greater free time would be enough to attract the top brains to management positions in the absence of the usual inducement of greater pay. Shaw realised that not everyone could run industries, and that it was necessary to hire the very best people, who would be a small minority. Giving them greater leisure time was the best way to do this, and he later criticises the Soviet government for not equalising incomes.

But this is sheer utopianism. The Bolsheviks had tried to equalise incomes, and it didn’t work, which is why they went back to higher rates of pay for managers and so on. And as we’ve seen, socialism doesn’t necessarily lead to greater free time and certainly not less legislation. The better argument is that socialism leads to greater liberty because under socialism people have better opportunities available to them for careers, sport, entertainment and personal improvement than they would if they were mere capitalist wage slaves.

Religious people will also object to his views on religion and the churches. While earlier in the book Shaw addressed the reader as a fellow Christian, his attitude in this section is one of a religious sceptic. The reader will have already been warned of this through the foreword by Toynbee. The Groaniad columnist is a high-ranking member of the both the Secular and Humanist Societies, and her columns and articles in just about every magazine or newspaper she wrote for contained sneers at religion. Shaw considers the various Christian denominations irreconcilable in their theologies, and pour scorn on orthodox Christian doctrines such as the Atonement, that Christ died for our sins. Religion should not be taught in school, because of the incompatibility of the account of the Creation in Genesis with modern science. Children should not be taught about religion at all under they are of the age of consent. If their parents do teach them, the children are to be removed from their care. This is the attitude of very aggressive secularists and atheists. Richard Dawkins had the same attitude, but eventually reversed it. It’s far too authoritarian for most people. Mike and I went to a church school, and received a very good education from teachers that did believe in evolution. Religion deals with ultimate questions of existence and morality that go far beyond science. I therefore strongly believe that parents have the right to bring their children up in their religion, as long as they are aware of the existence of other views and that those who hold them are not wicked simply for doing so. He also believed that instead of children having information pumped into them, the business should be to educate children to the basic level they need to be able to live and work in modern society, and then allow the child to choose for itself what it wants to study.

Communism and Fascism

This last section of the book includes Shaw’s observations on Russian Communism and Fascism. Shaw had visited the USSR in the early ’30s, and like the other Fabians had been duped by Stalin. He praised it as the new socialist society that was eradicating poverty and class differences. He also thought that its early history vindicated the Fabian approach of cautious nationalisation. Lenin had first nationalised everything, and then had to go back on it and restore capitalism and the capitalist managers under the New Economic Policy. But Russia was to be admired because it had done this reversal quite openly, while such changes were kept very quiet in capitalism. If there were problems in the country’s industrialisation, it was due to mass sabotage by the kulaks – the wealthy peasants – and the industrialists. He also recognised that the previous capitalist elite were disenfranchised, forced into manual labour, and their children denied education until the working class children had been served. At the same time, the Soviet leaders had been members of the upper classes themselves, and in order to present themselves as working class leaders had claimed working class parentage. These issues were, however, gradually working themselves out. The Soviet leaders no longer had need of such personal propaganda, and the former capitalists could reconcile themselves to the regime as members of the intellectual proletariat. And some of the industrialisation was being performed by criminals, but this was less arduous than the labour in our prisons.

Shaw is right about the NEP showing that nationalisation needs to be preceded by careful preparation. But he was obviously kept ignorant of the famine that was raging in the USSR through forced collectivisation and the mass murder of the kulaks. And rather than a few criminals in the gulags, the real figures were millions of forced labourers. They were innocent of any crime except Stalin’s paranoia and the need of his managers for cheap slave labour. It’s believed that about 30 millions died in Stalin’s purges, while 7 million died in the famine in the Ukraine.

Shaw’s treatment of Fascism seems to be based mostly on the career of Mussolini. He considers Fascism just a revival of the craze for absolute monarchy and military leadership, of the kind that had produced Henry VIII in England, Napoleon, and now Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, the Shah of Iran and Ataturk in Turkey. These new absolute rulers had started out as working class radicals, before find out that the changes they wanted would not come from the working class. They had therefore appealed to the respectable middle class, swept away democracy and the old municipal councils, which were really talking shops for elderly tradesmen which accomplished little. They had then embarked on a campaign against liberalism and the left, smashing those organisations and imprisoning their members. Some form of parliament had been retained in order to reassure the people. At the same time, wars were started to divert the population and stop them criticising the new generalissimo. Industry was approaching socialism by combining into trusts. However, the government would not introduce socialism or truly effective government because of middle class opposition. Fascist regimes wouldn’t last, because their leaders were, like the rest of us, only mortal. In fact Mussolini was overthrown by the other Fascists, who then surrendered to the Allies, partly because of his failing health. That, and his utter military incompetence which meant that Italy was very definitely losing the War and the Allies were steadily advancing up the peninsula. While this potted biography of the typical Fascist is true of Mussolini, it doesn’t really fit some of the others. The Shah, for example, was an Indian prince.

Anarchism and Syndicalism

Shaw is much less informed about anarchism. He really only discusses it in terms of ‘Communist Anarchism’, which he dismisses as a silly contradiction in terms. Communism meant more legislation, while anarchism clearly meant less. He should have the articles and books on Anarcho-communism by Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin believed that goods and services should be taken over by the whole community. However, rather than a complete absence of government and legislation, society would be managed instead by individual communities and federations.

He also dismisses syndicalism, in which industry would be taken over and run by the trade unions. He considers this just another form of capitalism, with the place of the managers being taken by the workers. These would still fleece the consumer, while at the same time leave the problem of the great inequality in the distribution of wealth untouched, as some industries would obviously be poorer than others. But the Guild Socialists did believe that there should be a kind of central authority to represent the interests of the consumer. And one of the reasons why nationalisation, in the view of some socialists, failed to gain the popular support needed to defend it against the privatisations of the Tories is because the workers in the nationalised industries after the War were disappointed in their hopes for a great role in their management. The Labour party merely wanted nationalisation to be a simple exchange of public for private management, with no profound changes to the management structure. In some cases the same personnel were left in place. Unions were to be given a role in management through the various planning bodies. But this was far less than many workers and trade unionists hoped. If nationalisation is to have any meaning, it must allow for a proper, expanded role of the workers themselves in the business of managing their companies and industries.

The book ends with a peroration and a discussion of the works that have influenced and interest Shaw. In the peroration Shaw exhorts the readers not to be upset by the mass poverty and misery of the time, but to deplore the waste of opportunities for health, prosperity and happiness of the time, and to look forward and work for a better, socialist future.

His ‘Instead of a Bibliography’ is a kind of potted history of books critical of capitalism and advocating socialism from David Ricardo’s formulation of capitalism in the 19th century. These also include literary figures like Ruskin, Carlyle and Dickens. He states that he has replaced Marx’s theory of surplus value with Jevons treatment of rent, in order to show how capitalism deprives workers of their rightful share of the profits.

 

 

Austerity and Prison Violence

January 15, 2020

A week or so ago Mike put up a piece reporting and commenting on the death of a disabled man in prison. From what I remember, like many such instances the man’s own special needs had been ignored and he was actually in prison for a minor offence. At least, one that should not merit his murder. Mike connected this to the Tories’ ongoing campaign of mass murder against the disabled.

In fact, violence, including self-harm, has risen massive in British jails since the Tories launched their wretched austerity. Joe Sim has authored an entire chapter on it in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity. Sim has his own particular view of the crisis. He considers that prison violence hasn’t itself been created by austerity. It’s always been there, and is part of society’s brutal maltreatment of the poor and marginalised. But it has been massively intensified by the Tories’ cuts.

The stats are horrifying. Between 2011 and 2016, sexual assaults almost doubled. In 2014-15 there were over 400 serious incidents requiring the intervention of the specialist National Tactical Response Group, In 2015 an average of 160 fires were started each month. Self-harm rose by 40 per cent in two years, so that in 2015, 32,313 incidents were recorded.

321 died in the year to June 2016, an increase of 30 per cent on the previous year. 105 of these were self-inflicted, a rise of 28 per cent. Deaths by natural causes rose by 26 per cent to 186. Between January 2010 and December 2016, 1637 prisoners died, 542 of which were self-inflicted.

In 2015-15 there were nearly 5000 assaults and acts of violence against the different groups of people working in prisons. These included 423 on prison officers below the rank of principal officer, 828 on nursing auxiliaries and assistants, 640 on nurses, 535 on care workers, and 423 on welfare and housing associate professionals.

Sim states that to many commentators, including the media, Prison Officers’ Association and mainstream politicians, the cause of this increased violence are the cuts to the prison budget. These amounted to £900 million between 2011 and 2015, or 24 per cent of its overall budget. The Prison Reform Trust said that it was

[n]o mystery that violence, self-harm and suicide rise when you overcrowd prisons, reduce staff by almost one third, cut time out of cell and purposeful activity. The backdrop is a more punitive climate, increased injustice and uncertainty which have sucked hope out of the system for prisoners and staff.

I’m not disputing that very many of those incarcerated are guilty of the most heinous offences, and fully deserve their incarceration and punishment. But it is very clear that austerity has resulted in a massive deterioration in conditions which fueling violence in prisons against staff and prisoners. There’s obviously a long and complicated debate about the purposes of prison – to punish, reform, or even both – but it is clear that neither staff nor prisoners deserve the maltreatment and violence the cuts have generated.

This isn’t reformative. It isn’t proper punishment. It is carnage.

But the Tories just love killing and death when it’s directed against the poor and powerless.

English History through the Broadside Ballad

December 24, 2019

A Ballad History of England: From 1588 to the Present Day, by Roy Palmer (London: BT Batsford 1979).

From the 16th century to the 20th, the broadside ballad was part of the popular music of British working people. They were written on important topics of the day, and printed and published for ordinary people. They would be sung by the ballad sellers themselves while hawking their wares. This book is a collection of popular ballads, assembled and with introductory notes by the folklorist Roy Palmer. It begins with the song ‘A Ioyful New Ballad’ from 1588 about the Armada, and ends with ‘The Men Who Make The Steel’ from 1973 about the steelworkers’ strike. Unlike the earlier songs, it was issued as a record with three other songs in 1975. The ballads’ texts are accompanied by sheet music of the tunes to which they were sung. Quite often the tunes used were well-known existing melodies, so the audience were already familiar with the music, though not the new words which had been fitted to them.

The ballads cover such important events in English and wider British history as a Lincolnshire witch trial; the draining of the fens; the Diggers, a Communist sect in the British Civil War; Oak Apple Day, celebrating the narrow escape of Charles II from the Parliamentarians in 1660; the defeat of the Monmouth Rebellion; the execution of Jacobite rebels in 1715; the South Sea Bubble; Dick Turpin, the highwayman; the Scots defeat at Culloden; emigration to Nova Scotia in Canada; Wolfe’s capture of Quebec; the enclosures; the Birmingham and Worcester Canal; the 18th century radical and advocate for democracy, Tom Paine; the mechanisation of the silk industry; the establishment of income tax; the death of Nelson; the introduction of the treadmill in prison; the Peterloo Massacre and bitter polemical attacks against Lord Castlereagh; Peel’s establishment of the police; body snatching; the 1834 New Poor Law, which introduced the workhouse system; poaching; the 1839 Chartist meeting at Newport; Queen Victoria’s marriage to Albert; Richard Oastler and the factory acts; the repeal of the Corn Laws; Bloomers; the construction of the Oxford railway; Charles Dickens visit to Coketown; the Liverpool Master Builders’ strike of 1866; agitating for the National Agricultural Union of farmworkers; the introduction of the Plimsoll line on ships; an explosion at Trimdon Grange colliery in County Durham; a 19th century socialist song by John Bruce Glasier, a member of the William Morris’ Socialist League and then the ILP; the Suffragettes; soldiers’ songs from the Boer War and the First World War; unemployed ex-servicemen after the War; the defeat of the General Strike; the Blitz; Ban the Bomb from 1958; and the Great Train Robbery. 

It also includes many other songs from servicemen down the centuries commemorating the deaths of great heroes and victories; and by soldiers, sailors and working people on land protesting against working conditions, tax, and economic recessions and exorbitant speculation on the stock markets. Some are just on the changes to roads, as well as local disasters.

This is a kind of social history, a history of England from below, apart from the conventional point of view of the upper or upper middle class historians, and shows how these events were viewed by tradesmen and working people. Not all the songs by any means are from a radical or socialist viewpoint. The ballad about Tom Paine is written against him, though he was a popular hero and there were also tunes, like the ‘Rights of Man’ named after his most famous book, celebrating him. But nevertheless, these songs show history as it was seen by England’s ordinary people, the people who fought in the navy and army, and toiled in the fields and workshops. These songs are a balance to the kind of history Michael Gove wished to bring in a few years ago when he railed against children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War. He’d like people to be taught a suitably Tory version of history, a kind of ‘merrie England’ in which Britain is always great and the British people content with their lot under the benign rule of people like David Cameron, Tweezer and Boris. The ballads collected here offer a different, complementary view.

Michael Brooks Applauds Labour’s Election Video

November 22, 2019

Michael Brooks is the titular presenter of an American left-wing internet news and comment show. He’s also a co-presenter with Sam Seder on the latter’s Majority Report. In this video, Brooks looks at and gives his approval to Labour’s election video.

Before going into the video, Brooks says that he thinks the election video is fantastic, that the initial polls look good and that Labour’s Brexit strategy is pretty smart. It’s smart from a tactical perspective of dealing with the competing demands from within their own party. He says of the Liberal Democrats that they are ‘utterly exposed’. They had an opportunity to form a government purely on the basis of making sure there wasn’t a no-deal Brexit. They rejected it because they care infinitely more about corporations and austerity and right-wing economic policies than stopping Brexit.  Brooks then attacks the Tories, stating that Boris Johnson is the UK’s own contribution to the global embarrassment list – Trump, Netanyahu, Duterte and so on. Of Labour’s video, he says that he watched a conversation earlier that day between Alistair Campbell and John McDonnell, Corbyn’s no. 2.  Brooks says that they’re really good politicians, because they’re putting so much on the table from the perspective of healthcare, workers’ cooperatives for a 21st century democracy, ‘that it’s not an opportunity to pass up.’ The video also shows they’re taking the campaign seriously, strategically and ‘presentationally’.  They then show the video.

Labour’s election video begins with Corbyn’s election as head of the Labour party in 2015. It then moves through his career, and shows how he has forced the Tories to backtrack on some of their horrendous policies, while seeing off Prime Ministers David Cameron and Tweezer. In front of the relevant scenes are the following captions, beginning with Corbyn’s election. Corbyn’s shown saying ‘Poverty isn’t inevitable, things can and they will change. And they already have, says another caption. Tweezer is shown walking on, and then walking off backwards with the caption ‘Tories forced to backtrack on’ – dementia tax, winter fuel cuts, fox hunting ban, – ‘and many more’. A list of other policies blocked rolls up the screen too fast to catch, but they include grammar schools, police funding cuts, diesel tax, solar panel tax, tampon tax, Brexit deal vote, National Insurance, Brexit impact reports, Saudi prison contracts, Sunday trading hours,  and triple lock on pensions.

There’s then footage of a reporter stating that polls show the Tories on 48 per cent, and Labour half that. Which is followed by John Snow saying ‘We, the media, the pundits, know nothing’. The captions then states that Labour had the biggest campaign growth since polling began. And that Corbyn bid farewell to two prime ministers, showing Tweezer and Cameron. It says he defeated May’s Brexit deal once, twice and then three times. He blocked Johnson’s disastrous no-deal Brexit. It then shows footage from the Labour conference of Corbyn saying that the party ‘will commit to unleash the biggest people-powered campaign we’ve ever seen in this country and in this movement.’ A caption then appears and says ‘To totally transform our society from grass roots upwards. To radically change our rigged economy so that it works for everyone.’ At this point there’s an image of Johnson meeting various people and Rees Mogg lounging on a Commons’ bench. The caption goes on ‘To urgently respond to the climate crisis with our green industrial revolution. To get Brexit sorted by giving the people the final say.’ It goes back to Corbyn against, who says, ‘We achieve all of these things by being a party and a movement totally and absolutely united to our common cause and purpose.’

The captions then appearing, saying ‘This is our chance, once in a generation  to rebuilt Britain and put wealth and power in the hands of the many not the few. It’s time for real change’. And there it finishes with the Labour Party logo.

Brooks remarks, ‘That’s a good ad. They’re on point. I would really recommend if you’re in the UK you do absolutely everything you can for Labour. I’m incredibly excited to see what they put forward.’ He and the crew then discuss which date the election is on, before concluding that it’s the twelfth December. Brooks ends that section of the video by saying that he thinks it’s fantastic they have such a short election cycle.

The reason why the election cycle is so short, is because all the Tory governments have collapsed ever since Cameron’s wretched decision to call the Brexit referendum.

I think it’s brilliant that Michael Brooks thinks the video is so great, and gives his unqualified support for Labour. Brooks and Seder are both supporters of Bernie Sanders and his campaign to bring about the radical change America needs to empower its ordinary working people, and give them jobs and prosperity instead of more neoliberal lies, poverty and despair from the Republicans and corporatist Democrats. And what America most desperately needs is medicare for all. It’s a disgrace that a massive economic and geopolitical giant like America does not provide properly funded medicine to all of its people. The claims by the Republicans and right-wing Democrats like Hillary Clinton that the country can’t afford to is a flat-out lie. Bernie’s serious about correcting this glaring injustice in American healthcare, just as Corbyn’s determined to revive and regenerate our National Health Service.

We need and deserve Corbyn to win over here, and Bernie to win in America. And then we can make a better world by destroying four decades of Thatcherism and Reaganomics.

Priti Patel and the Barbarity of the Reintroduction of the Death Penalty

July 27, 2019

Yesterday, Mike put up a piece reporting that Boris Johnson, the raging, incompetent blond beast now in charge of the government, has appointed Priti Patel as his home secretary. And she supports the reintroduction of the death penalty.

I’m not surprised. Johnson is a man of the Tory hard right, and there’s a section of the British public that has been demanding the return of the death penalty for years. I think support for capital punishment is probably spread between both parties, but I’m reasonably sure it’s much stronger in the Conservatives. This is the party that, after all, tries to project itself as the party of law and order and keeps demanding tougher sentencing for criminals. And that includes the death penalty for murder. It’s clear that Bozza is now very much appealing to that constituency with his appointment of Patel, although he himself won’t say whether he favours it himself.

I very well understand why some people want it back. There are unrepentant criminals responsible for the most sickening crimes, who do make you feel that they should pay the ultimate penalty. Like the Nazis at Nuremberg, who planned and presided over the horrific murder and torture of millions of individuals and the proposed extermination of entire races. Before Eichmann was executed he said something about regret and remorse being for the weak and inferior. Himmler in a notorious speech to the SS at the death camps actually boasted about the horrors they were committing, claiming that it was deeply moral and that though it was hard unpleasant, they would come through it with the moral character intact, still pure. With such twisted morality, such deep evil, you feel that death really is too good for them. And the same with serial killers and child murderers, like the Moors Murderers.

But as Mike showed in his piece, there are very, very strong arguments against capital punishment. Not least is the fact that innocent people have been convicted of murder in gross miscarriages of justice. This was Ian Hislop’s argument in a clip from Question Time he put up in his article, in which the editor of Private Eye mopped the floor with Patel. Hislop said that over the years his magazine had uncovered many such cases, and that if we had had the death penalty, then the people wrongfully convicted would be dead. He also pointed out that if we had it, we would also have turned some very unpleasant people into martyrs. By that, he means the various terrorists that have shot and bombed their way across Britain since the return of Irish nationalist terrorism in the 1970s. And some of those convicted of Irish Republican terrorist offences were victims of the miscarriage of justice. Like the Birmingham Six, who were wrongfully jailed for the Birmingham pub bombings. If these men had been executed for the crime, not only would the British state have killed innocent people, but that fact would have been picked up and strenuously broadcast by the IRA as yet more evidence of British oppression. And the Islamist terrorists responsible for 7/7 and other outrages see themselves as shahids – martyrs for Islam. At one level, executing them would be giving them exactly what they want. And their deaths would be used by the other zealots for propaganda, as righteous Muslims going to their eternal reward for killing the kufar.

All Patel could do in the face of this argument was bluster about being absolutely sure of the accused’s guilt before sentencing. That’s right – judges were obliged to point out to juries in murder cases during capital punishment that if they had any doubt whatsoever, they should not convict. But as Hislop then went to argue, innocent people were still convicted even with the weight of the burden of proof. And then Patel fell back on the old canard that it acted as a deterrent. There’s no evidence of that. A friend of mine, who’d actually read Pierrepoint’s memoirs, told me that Britain’s last hangman had said that in his experience, it didn’t act as a deterrent at all. According to Peter Hitchens, who is very much one of the law and order brigade – he’d like to see people jailed for drunkenness, for example – Pierrepoint changed his mind about this just before he died. But I think the evidence is that it doesn’t. In fact, it seems to encourage violence. I can remember reading in article in one of the papers back in the ’90s – the FT perhaps, or the Independent – that there’s actually a rise in violent incidents around the time of executions in the US. The article said that it was almost as though people felt that if the state could inflict violence, so could they.

I’d also argue that there are some murderers, who should be punished, but who also can be rehabilitated. When I was working as a volunteer at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, some of my co-workers were convicts at the end of their sentence. They were working towards being finally paroled and released back into the community. It was quite an experienced working with these people. Although they were murderers, they weren’t monsters. They were articulate, and often creative and highly educated. Some were so inoffensive, you wondered what circumstances led to them committing their crime. I realise that the people I knew may not be entirely representative. The Museum only took those who were genuinely willing to work there, rather than just exploit the system. And I am not suggesting for a single minute that murder should be treated leniently. I am merely arguing that there are some people responsible for this crime, who can be usefully rehabilitated after their punishment. And there may well be mitigating circumstances in individual cases that should rule out the death penalty.

And sometime, letting a murderer live and contemplate his guilt can be more terrible than simply killing them. One of the priests at my local church in south Bristol was a prison chaplain. He told us once how a murderer in one of the prisons in which he ministered told him one day, that he had no idea how difficult it was for the prisoner to live with the knowledge of what he’d done.

Way back in the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the cleric who wrote the constitution for the Knights Templars, once saved a murderer from execution. He had him taken down from the scaffold. When the crowd objected, he told them he was going to take the man to do something far harder than simply being killed, and led him off to become a monk. This was during the great age of monastic reform, when life in some of the new orders being founded was very hard.

Many of the early Christians under the Roman Empire also had very strong views against the judicial system and its punishments. They objected to the death penalty, because Our Lord had been unjustly condemned to death by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christians had no choice but to adopt and become responsible for the trial and punishment of criminals. But some bishops and clergy remained firmly against it to the end. One clergyman stated that he could not see how any Christian could have a man tortured or sentenced to death, and then lie back in ease and luxury on cushions afterwards. The Christians, who object to the death penalty are heirs to this tradition.

The reintroduction of the death penalty cannot be justified, not least because of the very real danger of wrongful conviction. By appointing Patel, one of its supporters, Johnson has shown how amoral he is in pandering to such vindictive populism. He, Patel and the other horrors in his cabinet are an affront to British justice. Get them out!

The Tories and Blairites Cannot Be Trusted to Defend the NHS from Trump

June 11, 2019

Last week the orange generalissimo managed to cause massive offence and outrage on his state visit here. And it wasn’t just for merely being present, although that was certainly a major factor in the protests his visit provoked. No, Trump and his spokesman were touting for a trade deal with Britain after Brexit. And he demanded that ‘everything should be on the table’, including healthcare.

Which means the NHS.

MPs from all sides of the House immediately swung into action to condemn the Fascist cheeto’s demands that the NHS should be opened up to private American healthcare companies. There were a string of high profile Tory MPs, including former health secretary Andrew Lansley, loudly denouncing Trump’s demand, and stating that they weren’t going to include the NHS as part of the Brexit deal and were going to defend this most precious of British institutions. Lansley in particular was scathing about Trump’s opposition to the way the NHS controlled drug prices. He was afraid that if Trump has his way, this would be discarded to allow predatory American pharmaceutical companies to charge excessive and unaffordable prices for needed drugs.

He’s absolutely right.

One of the current scandals with the American private, insurance-driven healthcare system is that the drug companies can and do charge whatever they like for their products, which means that these are often beyond the ability of ordinary Americans to afford. I’ve blogged on here about a piece from The Young Turks about how Americans are hoarding drugs or buying those intended for animals from vets because they can’t afford them. And the worst example of a drug company actually raising prices is the case of Martin Shkreli. When he took over one company, he raised the price of an anti-AIDS drug to well over $300 a pill. He said he only wanted rich Americans to be able to use it, not poor Indians. He was rightly massively vilified for his gross racism and profiteering, but continued to defend himself, as he really couldn’t see that he had done anything wrong.

But while it’s heartening to see all these politicians stand up to defend the health service, I don’t believe them. With one exception, of course: Jeremy Corbyn. The Tories and the Blairites simply can’t be trusted to defend the NHS because they haven’t done it up to now. Indeed, they’ve done the exact opposite, all the while denying it.

Remember how Maggie Thatcher loudly declared that the NHS was ‘safe with us’, and she would keep her wretched claws off it. She even put it in her memoirs, denouncing the claims of the Labour party that she was planning to privatise the health service as lies. But she herself was lying. Cabinet minutes released a couple of years ago showed that she very much wanted to privatise the NHS. She was only stopped because of a massive cabinet revolt and the fact that her Personal Private Secretary, Patrick Jenkin, had visited the US and had seen personally what a travesty American private healthcare was.

So she satisfied herself with cutting its budget and trying to encourage Brits to take out private health insurance instead. She was aiming for about 11 per cent of the British population to take out such insurance.

She was followed by John Major, whose health secretary Peter Lilley was, I believe, one of the others who attacked Trump’s demand for a slice of NHS action. But Lilley was responsible for the Private Finance Initiative, under which private firms were to be allowed to bid for NHS contracts and building and running hospitals in partnership with the government. It was deliberately introduced with the intention of opening up the health service to private healthcare companies. And Lilley was advised in his health policies by John Lo Casio of the American private health insurance fraudster, Unum.

Well, the government changed with Labour’s 1997 electoral victory, but the Thatcherite privatisation of the NHS remained on course. Blair was an unashamed Thatcherite, and she had reciprocated his feelings by calling him and New Labour her greatest achievement. Blair also took over Lo Casio and Unum as his advisers on health policy, and continued the stealth privatisation of the NHS. The Community Care Groups of GPs he set up to contract in healthcare services were given the power to purchase it from the private sector and to raise funding privately themselves. The health centres and polyclinics he set up were to be run by private healthcare firms, like Circle Health, BUPA and Beardie Branson’s Virgin Health. NHS contracts, including out of hours services in many regions were privatised and the contracts awarded to private healthcare firms.

And yes, American healthcare firms were among them. Private Eye reported how Blair was surrounded by American public sector contractors, all lobbying for their share of British state business. Like the private American prison company, Wackenhut. And this included private healthcare companies. Blair was particularly impressed by the private American healthcare provider, Keyserpermanente, which he thought provided better value for money than the traditional NHS structure. It doesn’t, but that was ignored, and the American company provided the model for his NHS reforms. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wanted the NHS to become nothing but a kitemark for services provided by private companies.

And this continued under David Cameron and Tweezer. Despite the loud shouts by Lansley and Jeremy Hunt that they ‘treasure’ the NHS, both of them preferred private healthcare and previously stated that they wanted the NHS effectively abolished and the lines blurred between state and private provision. There’s also a solid block of Tory politicians that would like the NHS sold off completely. Like the Devon Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, dubbed by Guy Debord’s Cat ‘the Lyin’ King’ because of his gross mendacity. The majority of NHS contracts are being awarded to private healthcare firms, rather than kept in-house, and they have been angling to win the contracts for whole regions. Which brings the complete privatisation of the NHS even closer.

Andrew Lansley’s convoluted Health and Social Care Act of 2012 also enabled its privatisation by removing the obligation of the health secretary to provide healthcare to everyone in the UK, which had been a statutory requirement since the founding of the NHS in 1948. The Tories have also consistently voted to introduce charges for certain NHS services. Mike over at Vox Political has frequently given the voting record of some of the worst Tories, who have not only done this, but also supported other attacks on the poor like cutting welfare services, raising tuition fees and supporting the bedroom tax.

And I don’t trust the Lib Dems either. They went into coalition with the Tories and did absolutely nothing as their partners in government continued to attack the welfare state and the NHS. Indeed some of them, like the former MP for Taunton Dean, strongly supported it.

I have to say that I think that the outrage from the Tories at Trump’s demands is largely hypocritical. They’d very much like to make a deal with Trump, that includes the NHS along with other essential services that should only be run by the state. But, as with the cabinet revolt against Thatcher, they’re afraid that if they agree, they will be voted out in a devastating landslide, possibly never to get back into power.

The only person, who can be trusted to defend the NHS and keep it safe from Trump and the other privatisers, is Jeremy Corbyn.

Don’t trust the Tories. They still want to and  are privatising the NHS. Nor the Lib Dems or ‘Centrist’ Labour, who are exactly the same. The only real hope of defending and reviving the NHS is with Corbyn and the victory of a genuine, socialist Labour party at the next election. 

UN Calls for Inquiry into Torture by British Troops in Iraq

May 21, 2019

Saturday’s issue of the I had this article, ‘UN calls for inquiry into torture by Army’ on page 2, which runs

A United Nations body has called for an inquiry into allegations of unlawful killings, torture and ill-treatment by British troops in Iraq. The Committee against Torture, which monitors the implementation of the convention against torture, said the UK should “refrain from enacting legislation that would grant amnesty or pardon where torture is concerned”.

This reminds me very strongly of Abu Ghraib, the US interrogation and detention centre where it was revealed US squaddies were abusing Iraqi prisoners. As much as I’d like to believe that British troops are different and morally superior to the rest of the world, it strikes me as all too possible that some of our troops were also doing the same. Britain was involved in the secret renditions of terrorists or terrorist suspects to countries, where they could be tortured. Furthermore, it has also been revealed that the American troops and mercenaries in Iraq ran amok in a reign of terror, according to shocked American diplomats. The mercenaries ran prostitution rings and shot innocent Iraqi civilians for sport as they drove past them. It was also revealed that American troops also collaborated with Shi’a gangs in running death squads.

I don’t know, but unfortunately it wouldn’t surprise me if British troops were involved in similar atrocities. But I wonder if we will ever find out about it, considering how unwilling the mainstream media were in promoting the War in Iraq, at least in America, and the way the British state still has very strong powers to block Freedom of Information requests and any inquiries into its dodgy activities.

Islamophobe Tommy Robinson Campaigning to Become MEP in Manchester

April 26, 2019

Well UKIP and Farage’s equally noxious Brexit party, both stuffed with racists and bigots, have announced their candidates for the European elections. And they’ve now been joined by that other long-term fixture of the populist extreme right, Stephen Yaxley Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson. Robinson’s past in the EDL and the BNP mean that he’s actually forbidden by their constitution to become a member of UKIP, which is why Gerard Batten has taken him on as the party’s special adviser on Islam and prisons. Because Robinson despises Islam and has spent quite a bit of time at her majesty’s pleasure on various charges, like assault, contempt of court likely to prejudice trials, that kind of thing. As he can’t be a member of UKIP, Robinson is trying to get himself elected to the European parliament as an independent.

Last week he announced that he was planning to buy his own political battle bus, equipped with screens outside and inside, so he could bring his message of hate to the British public directly without being banned by the authorities or having his videos taken down by YouTube and the other social media companies. And he’s appealed to his followers to send him their hard-earned cash so he can buy it. On Thursday he began his campaign to become the MEP for England’s north-west region in Wythenshawe, a suburb of Manchester. He chose the place because it’s where many of the support workers for Manchester airport live. He claimed that the local people had been forgotten and betrayed at every level, and the Labour party no longer represented ‘who we are’, and called for people to stop supporting them and turn to him instead. He was introduced by Ann-Marie Waters, the struggling Fuhrerin of For Britain, another far right, Islamophobic party. For Britain’s members, according to Hope Not Hate, are former BNP and EDL storm troopers, who are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Water’s leadership.

Robinson began his campaign with a barbecue on Brownley Green, opposite the local Methodist church. And the locals really didn’t want him to turn up. He was asked not to come by the local Christian, Jewish and Muslim community leaders. Wythenshawe Community Housing Group told Robinson that the green is their land, and they were refusing him permission to use it. Madeleine Monaghan stated that the area was unsuitable for large gatherings as it was in an area of family homes, with narrow streets, children and old people. Nevertheless, Robinson ignored them and went ahead anyway.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/04/tommy-robinson-barbecue-banned.html

In the event only 300 local people turned up. And the cops, who informed Robinson he may have broken electoral law. This forbids politicians from offering money or other gifts to induce people to vote for them. It’s a law which was passed in the 19th century to stamp out the corruption of 18th century politics, including the rotten and pocket boroughs controlled by a single landlord. Politicalite also issued a tweet stating that the event was hosted by the Australian News Network, aka Avi Yemini. Yemini is an unindicted Australian-Israeli war criminal. He boasts of having shot unarmed Arabs when he was a soldier in the IDF. He is also not a British national. It is also against electoral law for political parties and candidates to be sponsored by foreign individuals and organisations. As there was a complaint against UKIP for handing out free sausage rolls at one of their electoral rallies a few years ago, Robinson may well find himself up before the Electoral Commission trying to explain himself.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/04/tommy-robinson-campaign-may-have-broken.html

See also this piece by Hope Not Hate, who have also started a campaign to stop him.

Stephen Lennon wants to go to Brussels

A vote for Robinson is a vote for Fascist thuggery, no exaggeration. He’s campaigned with the Football Lads’ Alliance, an organisation of football hooligans. And his method of dealing with his opponents on social media is to turn up mob-handed with his storm troopers at all hours of the day and night at the homes of his detractors and their families. He’s done it to the good blogger at Zelo Street, to historian and anti-racist YouTuber Mike Stuchbery, and to an unnamed blogger in Luton. In the latter case, Robinson drove all the way from his own home in Luton to the man’s parents’ home in Cumbria, arriving in the early hours of the morning.

This isn’t how proper, democratic politicians behave. It’s how the squadristi of Mussolini’s Fascists behaved in Italy, and Hitler’s Nazi thugs. It’s the tactics of the secret police of totalitarian states, like Stalin’s KGB, the Nazis’ Gestapo and Mussolini’s OVRA. Quite apart from Robinson’s own message of hatred against innocent, law-abiding Muslims, simply for being Muslims.

He is, along with Batten’s UKIP and Farage’s Brexit Party, a threat to democracy and the peace and safety of ordinary British citizens. In the event, only 300 local people actually turned up. Let’s hope the next time he invades an area looking for votes, local people also recognise him for what he is. And support British democracy by staying away or protesting against him.